16 January 2015

Holistic plan to tackle economic vulnerabilities

Dr Subir Gokarn
Jan 16 2015


Excerpts from the presentations at the Roundtable on National Security Key Challenges Ahead organised by The Tribune National Security Forum in collaboration with the Indian Council of World Affairs See also, www.tribuneindia.com

In the last three years, we have seen repeated jolts and shocks to the rupee. It has moved very sharply in the course of a few weeks and this has been extremely disruptive to business, to sentiment, to overall economic activity. People cannot deal with such volatility in the rupee, particularly foreign investors whose returns were completely neutralised by the rupee depreciation. Why did that happen and what are the national security implications?

Obviously, it makes the economy extremely vulnerable. There is a loss of credibility, a sense of firefighting and the inability to focus on long-term policy-making. All of these are vulnerabilities that we need to recognise, but the key issue is why we, or how we, let our current account deficit increase from a very, very stable 2 per cent of the GDP, or less, for 20 years — in fact, we had surpluses — to a sudden explosion of 4.2 per cent in a year and 4.8 per cent in the second year? That is the context in which rupee vulnerability became very, very acute.

So, a very significant element of economic vulnerability is to have a mechanism in place to not allow the currency to move so dramatically. We were not the only ones affected by this. Other countries also saw a lot of turbulence. But the impact on our economy was acute in the financial and retail sectors and foreign investment. There is a lesson there in terms of trying to create conditions which prevent this kind of shock from manifesting. Why did our current account deficit grow so large? There were four factors.

Firstly, gold imports grew from 1.2-1.3 per cent of the GDP in 2007 to about 3.1-3.2 per cent in 2012. It was a massive increase, but it created a big hole. The second factor was oil and the increase in its prices from about $80-85 per barrel in 2010 to $105-110, which persisted until a few months ago. Two other factors came into play in 2010 and 2011. Our coal imports grew from virtually nothing in 2007. We import lots of coaking coal, but not non-coking coal. Now, we import about $10 billion worth of non-coking coal because we have to feed all the power generation capacity we created without the corresponding increase in coal capacity. And we know the story behind that. But this kind of rapid increase and dependence on other countries for critical items is something that is of great significance when it comes to managing microeconomic vulnerability. We need to focus on it as we move forward.

Can the ‘unknown angel’ deliver?

Erik Solheim

The most difficult challenge for Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will be reconciliation with the Tamils

Anyone who two months back bet on Maithripala Sirisena winning the presidential election in Sri Lanka would be a millionaire. Most international experts expected former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to win and strengthen his family rule. He controlled the resources of the state to fund his election campaign and administered thousands of buses to transport people to election rallies. The state-controlled media broadcast Pravda-style propaganda and outright lies about high-profile defections from the opposition, even on election day. Fake pamphlets called on Tamils to boycott the elections. The economy was good and Mr. Rajapaksa, who so brutally ended the long war with the Tamil Tigers, was still popular with the Sinhalese majority. But more and more voices from Sri Lanka itself whispered to me — please wait and see, the opposition may still win.

Victory for Sri Lanka

The victory for Mr. Sirisena was a huge victory for Sri Lanka. Mr. Sirisena led one of the broadest coalitions in politics seen anywhere at any time. It included the left wing party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the right wing United National Party (UNP) party. It was supported by Tamils and Muslims as well as the hard-core Buddhist nationalist of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party. The two historical leaders Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickramasinghe joined hands with cricket stars and general Sarath Fonseka, who led the war against the Tamil Tigers.

Militants behind the veil

Rafia Zakaria
16 Jan 2015

The attack took place in one of the busiest areas of Istanbul. On 6 January, a woman in a niqab blew herself up at a police station in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district, killing one officer and injuring another. So far, it is not known which group was responsible or who the woman was. Witnesses said she spoke in English with a heavy accent but little else is known about her ~ only that she was one of an increasing number of women joining militant organisations and being used to carry out terror attacks.

On Sunday, 11 January. two female suicide bombers from the Nigerian group Boko Haram blew themselves up in a market in north-eastern Nigeria killing at least four people and injuring dozens. This attack came the day after a similar bombing, in which an explosive device was attached to a girl reportedly 10 years old. That attack killed at least 20 people.

In Pakistan, extremist groups espousing militancy are casting their own seductive shadows on women. In November last year, a video emerged produced by the female students of the Lal Masjid-run Jamia Hafsa seminary. In it, the women declare their support for the Islamic State group that operates out of Syria and Iraq. The speaker in the video ~ which was reportedly endorsed by the seminary’s principal, Umme Hassan, wife of the Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz ~ speaks entirely in Arabic and expresses support for IS, urging Pakistani militants to join its ranks. The video attracted little attention in Pakistan when it was first released. In the months since then, however, the actions of Maulana Aziz and those of his wife and followers have once again landed them in the spotlight. Maulana Aziz’s refusal to condemn the Peshawar school massacre garnered protests from civil society organisations and led to an arrest warrant being issued against him. A report by security agencies in January also mentioned the construction of a new branch of the all-female Jamia Hafsa in Mal Pur village in Islamabad, and implied that the land had been obtained illegally.

A closer look at the doings of Jamia Hafsa since its notorious acts of vigilante justice right before the 2007 siege of Lal Masjid reveals even more pressing concerns. Back then, the women of the seminary had been roaming the city abducting women they alleged were involved in illicit activities: they have now begun to exert a more insidious appeal.

India in 2015: Optimism Returns as Modi Finds His Footing

Jan, 2015 

When U.S. President Barack Obama visits India in January on the occasion of the country’s Republic Day, he will be talking ordnance. “India and the U.S. are discussing defense technology transfer and joint defense production as a prelude to President Barack Obama’s visit,” notes business daily The Economic Times. India is the world’s largest arms importer ($14 billion over the past three years and a projected $139 billion up to 2020). The U.S. has recently displaced Russia as the largest supplier of arms to the country.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the other hand, is thinking ordinance. His reforms process was being thwarted by a filibustering opposition in the upper house — the Rajya Sabha — where his coalition lacks a majority. In late December, he used executive fiat (or ordinance) for coal sector reforms, to amend the land acquisition laws, and to hike the foreign direct investment (FDI) ceiling in insurance from 26% to 49%. In January, it was the turn of the mining and minerals sector.

“The ordinances demonstrate the firm commitment and determination of this government to reforms,” said finance minister Arun Jaitley. “It also announces to the world that this country can no longer wait even if one of the houses of Parliament waits indefinitely to take up its agenda.”

The ordinances do not become law automatically; they have to be passed by Parliament within six weeks of the commencement of the next session. There is a way to tackle a recalcitrant Rajya Sabha; Modi can call a joint session of Parliament and, with his Lok Sabha (lower house) majority, get the ordinances passed into law. “The ordinance route definitely makes the intent of the government very clear,” says Kaustubh Dhargalkar, associate dean and head of Innowe, the Center for Innovation and Memetics at WE School. “It spells out the fact that there is no time to waste on the niceties of democracy when a job needs to be done.”

“I think the prospects for GDP growth in the medium to long term are very positive.”–Jitendra V. Singh

A War Between Two Worlds

January 14, 2015

The murders of cartoonists who made fun of Islam and of Jews shopping for their Sabbath meals by Islamists in Paris last week have galvanized the world. A galvanized world is always dangerous. Galvanized people can do careless things. It is in the extreme and emotion-laden moments that distance and coolness are most required. I am tempted to howl in rage. It is not my place to do so. My job is to try to dissect the event, place it in context and try to understand what has happened and why. From that, after the rage cools, plans for action can be made. Rage has its place, but actions must be taken with discipline and thought.

I have found that in thinking about things geopolitically, I can cool my own rage and find, if not meaning, at least explanation for events such as these. As it happens, my new book will be published on Jan. 27. Titled Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, it is about the unfolding failure of the great European experiment, the European Union, and the resurgence of European nationalism. It discusses the re-emerging borderlands and flashpoints of Europe and raises the possibility that Europe's attempt to abolish conflict will fail. I mention this book because one chapter is on the Mediterranean borderland and the very old conflict between Islam and Christianity. Obviously this is a matter I have given some thought to, and I will draw on Flashpoints to begin making sense of the murderers and murdered, when I think of things in this way.

Let me begin by quoting from that chapter:

We've spoken of borderlands, and how they are both linked and divided. Here is a border sea, differing in many ways but sharing the basic characteristic of the borderland. Proximity separates as much as it divides. It facilitates trade, but also war. For Europe this is another frontier both familiar and profoundly alien.

Islam invaded Europe twice from the Mediterranean - first in Iberia, the second time in southeastern Europe, as well as nibbling at Sicily and elsewhere. Christianity invaded Islam multiple times, the first time in the Crusades and in the battle to expel the Muslims from Iberia. Then it forced the Turks back from central Europe. The Christians finally crossed the Mediterranean in the 19th century, taking control of large parts of North Africa. Each of these two religions wanted to dominate the other. Each seemed close to its goal. Neither was successful. What remains true is that Islam and Christianity were obsessed with each other from the first encounter. Like Rome and Egypt they traded with each other and made war on each other.

Military Courts in Pakistan: A Soft Coup by the Pakistan Army?

January 14, 2015

In the immediate aftermath of the Peshawar carnage, Pakistan’s National Assembly and Senate approved the 21st Constitutional Amendment on 8 January 2015. This paved the way for the establishment of Military Courts with the responsibility of ensuring the speedy trial of ‘hard core terrorists’. Although the amendment was passed by an overwhelming majority, a fairly large number of members in both the houses abstained. In the Senate, of the 114 members, 78 voted in favour and 36 abstained; similarly in the National Assembly, 218 out of 342 members voted in favour and 124 abstained. This clearly points to the underlying political opposition.

It is apparent that the military, in connivance with an embattled Nawaz Sharif, has pushed through the constitutional amendment which will have serious implications for the rule of law and the democratic fibre of Pakistan. Not only have the civil society and human right organizations come out strongly against this move, the two important mainstream parties – Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and Tehrik-i-Insaf Party (TIP) – have openly condemned the measure. Bilawal Bhutto tweeted his opposition to both the military courts and capital punishment. For its part, Imran Khan’s TIP, although it has otherwise adopted a soft stand towards Islamists and militants, has not been forthcoming in its support for the amendment either. The TIP’s abstention is particularly relevant since the carnage of school children took place in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where it runs the government.

Why Military Courts?

Why is the Pakistan military pushing for these courts when the country already has a fairly robust “Anti Terrorism Act” together with designated Anti Terrorism Courts? The latter were specifically set up to try terrorism related offences, although they have failed to provide the desired speedy justice. Two reasons are offered for their poor track record: One, intimidation by radical organizations has either prevented judges from giving judgments against terrorists or simply slowed down the legal process; Two, there is a lack of admissible evidence primarily because people are scared of retribution and do not therefore come forward to give evidence. Under these circumstances, the obvious way forward was to address these issues by providing protection to both judges and witnesses and adopting other associated legal measures. Instead, what we are witnessing is a circumvention of the due process of law and a mockery of constitutional provisions for the sake of political expediency.

China's Uyghurs and Islamic State

January 15, 2015

A report from China’s Global Times (picked up and summarized by Reuters) says that China has arrested 10 Turkish nationals in Shanghai for their role in assisting ethnic Uyghurs in illegally leaving China. According toGlobal Times, the Uyghurs intended to use fake Turkish passports to travel to Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to fight alongside Islamist militants.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei did not directly confirm the story, but told journalists that the Chinese media report “has gone into great details… I have nothing new to add.” Hong did elaborate a bit on China’s general position on the issue, saying that “cracking down on illegal immigration is an aspiration shared by the international community, and also the persistent stance taken by the Chinese government.”

Interestingly, Hong made no mention of the reported connection with terrorism, which is a major focus of theGlobal Times story. The piece opens by saying that in November 2014, authorities in Shanghai uncovered a organization of Turkish nationals that provided “Chinese terrorists” with false Turkish passports that could then be used to illegally leave the country. Each fake passport cost 60,000 RMB ($9,680), according to the report.

In addition to the 10 Turkish nationals, Shanghai authorities arrested nine Uyghurs from Xinjiang who planned to use the fake passports and two Chinese citizens who assisted with the illegal immigration scheme. Shanghai authorities have arrested the Uyghurs on suspicion of “organizing, leading, and taking part in terrorist organizations” and are conducting an investigation. Officials said that they had discovered video materials related to terrorism in the possession of the suspects, and that the suspects were planning to travel to Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan – implying that the suspects wanted to join terrorist organizations in those countries, notably Islamic State, which has operations in all three.

China and the Lethal Drone Option

January 15, 2015

Jane’s Defense Weekly has a piece on China’s dronesthis week, analyzing the new design of the Tian Yi unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), manufactured by Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC). In the works since 2006, the new Tian Yi appears to be designed with stealth in mind; Jane’s notes modifications to the engines and air intake “are most likely intended to suppress the UAV’s infrared signature.” In addition to the modified Tian Yi, CAC showed off a scaled-down version of its Soar Dragon UAV in November 2013. Jane’s notes that the appearance of two UAVs in quick succession “may indicate they are the PLA’s current development priority for CAC.”

I’ll leave the details of military technology to the professionals over at Jane’s and instead attempt to tackle a question outside Jane’s analysis: what might these drones be used for? In particular, I was intrigued by a question posed by Bill Bishop in his invaluable Sinocism newsletter: what happens if and when China begins making use of armed drones to wage its war on terror – in Xinjiang and possibly beyond?

This is not an idle thought exercise. China has already deployed surveillance drones to Xinjiang to track the movements of suspected terrorists. According to Chinese media reports summarized by the New York Times, drones are being used “on multiple missions round-the-clock” and have already provided intelligence used to either locate or arrest suspects.

While so far these drone missions have been limited to surveillance, that might change in the future. There’s no question that China is focusing on developing armed drones. According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2014 report on China’s military development, of four UAVs confirmed by China to be under development three “are designed to carry weapons: the Xianglong (Soaring Dragon); Yilong (Pterodactyl); Sky Saber; and Lijian, China’s first stealthy flying wing UAV.”

China showcased its armed drones during multilateral anti-terrorism drills held under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization last August. According to Xinhua, a drone (the specific model was not clear) participated in live fire drills and “shot off several missiles.” A spokesman from the PLA Air Force said that “the drone, tasked with surveillance, reconnaissance and ground attacks, will play a vital role in fighting against terrorism” (emphasis added).

Relax, China Won't Challenge US Hegemony

January 14, 2015

Needless to say, the Sino-U.S. relationship is one of the most important yet complicated bilateral relationships in the world today. This explains why Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang’s recent comments on Sino-U.S. relations have stirred up a debate online (here and here). Wang Yang stated that China “[has] neither the ability nor the intent to challenge the United States.” Partly because it is rare for a senior Chinese leader to make such soft remarks with regard to Sino-U.S. relations and partly because Wang’s remarks are seemingly inconsistent with China’s recent assertive foreign policies, there has been a fierce debate about the true meaning of Wang’s remarks in the United States. Most American analysts, however, are skeptical toward Wang’s conciliatory remarks and continue to believe that China’s ultimate aim is to establish a China-centric order in Asia at the expense of the U.S. influence in Asia. In other words, China seeks to replace the U.S. as the new global hegemon.

The reactions from the U.S. side, again, reveal the deep mistrust with regard to China’s long term goals. But such skepticism is misguided and even dangerous to Asia’s peace and stability if left uncorrected. Why? Because Wang Yang was sincere when he said that China does not have the capabilities and desires to challenge the United States. The evidence of his sincerity is apparent.

First let us look at China’s capabilities, which need to be especially formidable if China wants to challenge the United States. Although China’s comprehensive capabilities have been growing rapidly for the past three decades, almost all analysts inside and outside of China agree that there is still a huge gap between China and the U.S. in terms of comprehensive capabilities, particularly when the U.S. is far ahead of China in military and technological realms. China’s economy might have already passed the U.S. economy as the largest one in 2014, but the quality of China’s economy still remains a major weakness for Beijing. Thus, it would be a serious mistake for China to challenge the U.S. directly given the wide gap of capabilities between the two. Even if one day China’s comprehensive capabilities catch up with the United States, it would still be a huge mistake for China to challenge the U.S. because by then the two economies would be much more closely interconnected, creating a situation of mutual dependence benefiting both countries.

Is China’s One-Child Policy Irrelevant Now?

By Ma Junjie
January 14, 2015

When Jane Austen wrote “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” it was the time of the landed gentry in the days of the Regency era. In China today, though, Austen’s words resonate for many. For China in 2015 is home to more than a few single men in possession of a good fortune, but not so many women. At least not in the rural areas.

My hometown is village of 5,000 in Hebei province. During a recent visit, I took the opportunity to catch up with my old elementary school teachers. The textbooks, teacher salaries, and school facilities had all changed, but what astonished me was the number of pupils. When I was in school, there were two parallel classes in each grade with at least 30 to 50 pupils in each class. And there were six grades in total. Now, there is but one class for each grade, with at most 30 pupils, only five or six of whom are girls.

As I chatted with my old teachers, they confirmed what was readily apparent: There are fewer pupils, fewer of whom are girls. According to my teachers, this situation was rather common, at least outside the city.

What will that mean a couple of decades from now? Perhaps the story of my cousin can offer some insight. He was born in 1991, at a time when the one child policy was arguably at is strictest. As the third child of his family (he has two older sisters), my uncle paid a handsome fine to keep him, while my aunt played several games of hide and seek with officials from the local family planning office. My cousin recently became engaged, to a great deal of relief. It did not occur to me how lucky he felt until my uncle told me there were at least 30 young men in my village who are in their twenties and are looking for a marriage partner. Thanks to China’s economic development, these young men have much to offer, but the search is difficult.

Why is it so hard for them to find a wife? The answer is really quite simple.

Kachin and China’s Troubled Border

By Brent Crane
January 14, 2015

The Kachin conflict is a thorn in China’s side as it tries to manage its relations with Myanmar. 

The Je Yang refugee camp is crawling with youngsters. Some run down the camp’s main dirt road in stained clothes rolling along old tires while others hang from tree branches or sit in windowsills. The elderly, looking pensive and forlorn, idle crouched in doorways while able-bodied men hammer together the frame of a new house. The air is smoky from cooking fires and near the raised huts squeezed up against the jungle lingers the unmistakable odor of human excrement.

The camp of 8,000 sits just over the border from China’s southwestern Yunnan province, in the town of Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). The KIO is Myanmar’s second largest ethnic rebel group. For more than fifty years its armed wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been embroiled in a simmering conflict with the Tatmadaw (the Burmese military), fighting for greater autonomy within a federalized state as well as for control over the abundant natural resources native to Kachin lands. The residents in Je Yang, one of four such camps in Laiza, have all fled their homes because of the violence, which picked up in 2011 after a 17-year ceasefire was broken. There are over 100,000 refugees both in and outside Kachin state.

China, which lies just across the river from Laiza, occupies a unique role in the Kachin conflict. Its close proximity to Kachin state means that whatever happens there has a direct impact on China’s border stability. Its Jingpo minority group, in fact if not in name, are of the same ethnicity as the mostly Christian Kachin. Their separation by the border is arbitrary and most of them live as if it wasn’t there. The driver who transported me to Laiza for instance, a Jingpo man living on the Chinese side of the border in Yingjiang, has two young sons that attend school in Laiza.


By Paul Hedges

There are problems with terms used to discuss religiously justified violence, like Islamism, Radical Islam, Jihadism, etc. They may provide legitimacy to terrorists, increase Islamophobia, and distort or misrepresent the actions and ideologies they seek to describe.

Violence in the name of religion, especially Islam, is a global concern: the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks, and the ongoing ISIS conflict being two prominent examples. The language used to discuss this is, however, deeply problematic, with terms used by the media, politicians, and academics often distorting or oversimplifying the issues.

The focus, here, on Islam is because it is the most discussed example, although I do not believe Islam is inherently violent or more violent than any other religion. Indeed, no clear evidence suggests religion is more likely to incite violence than other ideologies or worldviews; nevertheless, in the current geopolitical environment it often provides a claimed motivation or seeming explanation – both for actors and commentators.
Naming religious violence

The language used seeks to distinguish what is termed “moderate Islam” from the actions and ideologies of terrorists and militants; politicians like George Bush and Tony Blair wished to distinguish their “War on Terror” from a war against Islam. The terms used include: Islamism, Radical/Extremist Islam, Fundamentalist Islam, Jihadism. However, none of these is really adequate.

75% of World Piracy Attacks Were in Asia in 2014

January 15, 2015

Asia accounted for around 75 percent of the world’s maritime piracy and robbery incidents in 2014, according to the latest report released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

According to the IMB’s figures, which were widely reported in media outlets Wednesday, there were 245 actual and attempted acts of piracy worldwide last year, and 183 of those occurred in Asian waters.

The IMB specifically highlighted the fact that within the overall recorded numbers, attacks against small tankers off the Southeast Asian coast had caused a rise in global ship hijackings from 12 in 2013 to 21 in 2014. “The global increase in hijackings is due to a rise in attacks against coastal tankers in Southeast Asia,” Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB said in a statement posted on its website. “Gangs of armed thieves have attacked small tankers in the region for their cargoes, many looking specifically for marine diesel and gas oil to steal and then sell.”

Southeast Asia as a subregion saw 141 piracy incidents in 2014, with the vast majority of them carried out in Indonesian waters. That is also an increase from the 2013 figure of 126 incidents.

While the IMG commended some countries in the subregion – specifically the Indonesian Marine Police and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency – for responding to and stemming the increase in attacks in port hotspots, it warned that there was a risk that mostly low-level thefts from vessels using guns and long knives could become even more violent in the future if crackdowns against them were not sustained.

“It is important that these gangs are caught and punished under law, before the attacks become more audacious and violent,” Mukundan said.

Southeast Asia is home to vital shipping lanes such as the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca, where about half of world trade and a third of the world’s oil supply passes through. Though littoral states have successfully enhanced regional cooperation in recent years to address piracy concerns, the IMB’s numbers confirm growing anxieties that incidents have nonetheless been on the rise.

Despite Asia clearly being a global hotspot, the IMB stressed that the overall figures suggested good news for the world more generally, since the global number of piracy attacks registered in 2014 was 44 percent lower than 2011, when piracy off the Somali coast was raging, and the lowest ever recorded since 2007.

Be Afraid. Be A Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq

January 2015

Many U.S. and European intelligence officials fear that a wave of terrorism will sweep over Europe, driven by the civil war in Syria and continuing instability in Iraq. Many of the concerns stem from the large number of foreign fighters involved.

Number of Foreign Fighters in Syria (by Country)

Despite these fears and the real danger that motivates them, the Syrian and Iraqi foreign fighter threat can easily be exaggerated. Previous cases and information emerging from Syria suggest several mitigating effects that may reduce—but hardly eliminate—the potential terrorist threat from foreign fighters who have gone to Syria. Those mitigating factors include:

• Many die, blowing themselves up in suicide attacks or perishing quickly in firefights with opposing forces.

• Many never return home, but continue fighting in the conflict zone or at the next battle for jihad.

• Many of the foreign fighters quickly become disillusioned, and a number even return to their home country without engaging in further violence.

• Others are arrested or disrupted by intelligence services. Indeed, becoming a foreign fighter—particularly with today’s heavy use of social media—makes a terrorist far more likely to come to the attention of security services.

The danger posed by returning foreign fighters is real, but American and European security services have tools that they can successfully deploy to mitigate the threat. These tools will have to be adapted to the new context in Syria and Iraq, but they will remain useful and effective.

A War Between Two Worlds

January 13, 2015

The murders of cartoonists who made fun of Islam and of Jews shopping for their Sabbath meals by Islamists in Paris last week have galvanized the world. A galvanized world is always dangerous. Galvanized people can do careless things. It is in the extreme and emotion-laden moments that distance and coolness are most required. I am tempted to howl in rage. It is not my place to do so. My job is to try to dissect the event, place it in context and try to understand what has happened and why. From that, after the rage cools, plans for action can be made. Rage has its place, but actions must be taken with discipline and thought.

I have found that in thinking about things geopolitically, I can cool my own rage and find, if not meaning, at least explanation for events such as these. As it happens, my new book will be published on Jan. 27. Titled Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, it is about the unfolding failure of the great European experiment, the European Union, and the resurgence of European nationalism. It discusses the re-emergingborderlands and flashpoints of Europe and raises the possibility that Europe's attempt to abolish conflict will fail. I mention this book because one chapter is on the Mediterranean borderland and the very old conflict between Islam and Christianity. Obviously this is a matter I have given some thought to, and I will draw on Flashpoints to begin making sense of the murderers and murdered, when I think of things in this way.

Let me begin by quoting from that chapter:

We've spoken of borderlands, and how they are both linked and divided. Here is a border sea, differing in many ways but sharing the basic characteristic of the borderland. Proximity separates as much as it divides. It facilitates trade, but also war. For Europe this is another frontier both familiar and profoundly alien.

Islam invaded Europe twice from the Mediterranean — first in Iberia, the second time in southeastern Europe, as well as nibbling at Sicily and elsewhere. Christianity invaded Islam multiple times, the first time in the Crusades and in the battle to expel the Muslims from Iberia. Then it forced the Turks back from central Europe. The Christians finally crossed the Mediterranean in the 19th century, taking control of large parts of North Africa. Each of these two religions wanted to dominate the other. Each seemed close to its goal. Neither was successful. What remains true is that Islam and Christianity were obsessed with each other from the first encounter. Like Rome and Egypt they traded with each other and made war on each other.

Five Things Wrong with the Reaction to the Paris Attacks

January 13, 2015 

The responses, outside as well as inside France, to the recent attacks in Paris have become a bigger phenomenon, at least as worthy of analysis and explanation, as the attacks themselves. This pattern is hardly unprecedented regarding reactions,or overreactions, to terrorist incidents, but what has been going on over the past week exhibits several twists and dimensions that are especially misleading or misdirected.

1. Scale of the attacks vs. scale of the reaction. Seventeen people, not counting the perpetrators, died in the Paris incidents. With the usual caveat that the death of even a single innocent as a result of malevolently applied violence is a tragedy and an outrage, the response has been far out of proportion to the stimulus. The magnitude of what the Paris attackers did was modest by the standards even of international terrorism, let alone by the standards of all malevolently applied violence or of political violence in general. By way of comparison, about the same time as the Paris attacks the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram conducted a massacre in a town in which probably several hundred, and possibly as many as 2,000, died. The international attention to this incident was miniscule compared to the Paris story.

Of course anything disturbing that happens in a major Western capital is bound to get more attention than an even bloodier happening in a remote part of an African country. Probably another reason why press coverage of the Paris story was enormous from the beginning was that the target of the first attack was part of the media, and that ipso facto makes the story of greater interest to the press itself.

The End of OPEC as We Have Known It is Here

January 14, 2015

Early last Fall, when oil prices had fallen by about $25 a barrel and it became clear the decline was more than a temporary blip, the big question was how far prices would fall. And that would depend on whether and when Saudi Arabia and its OPEC partners would support the world oil price by cutting their own production. By this winter, we had an answer. The Saudis have made it clear, by what they have said and what they have not done, that they want the U.S. and others to cut production before they do any cutting of their own. This is the end of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries as we have known it, and it will keep the global oil market chaotic for some time. 

On Tuesday, oil prices fell further after the United Arab Emirates’ oil minister said OPEC would keep output unchanged. Markets will adjust to this new situation, but not very quickly. And most of the adjustments will have to come from lower oil production because consumption depends largely on the level of fuel efficiency of today’s vehicles and planes, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Thus, most of the adjustment will have to come from the supply side of the market, where low prices could force some high cost fields to shut down earlier than planned and cause many new drilling projects to be abandoned. 

Most of the world’s new oil production has come from U.S. shale fields and Canadian tar sands — two main forms of “tight oil” that were made possible by new technologies that had revolutionized the industry. Both are relatively high-cost sources of oil, but with an important difference. The tar sands projects require huge initial investments in processing plants but have low marginal costs to operate afterward. Once established, their production is unlikely to change much. By contrast, shale fields produce most of their output in the first year, which makes their output highly responsive to oil prices. A disproportionate amount of any reduction in global supply is therefore likely to come from cuts in U.S. shale oil production.

That adjustment is already underway, and it will lower the projected path of oil production for later this year and beyond. But in the immediate future, U.S. production will continue to grow as wells started last year are completed. For now, production will continue to exceed demand and inventories of oil and oil products, which are already at historically high levels, will rise further. So it is easy to make the case that prices are headed still lower in the near term.

Saudi Arabia's Oil Strategy: "Chill, Not Kill" America's Energy Revolution

January 13, 2015

Oil prices are plunging to levels not seen since the great recession of 2008-09.While there is wide debate over why this is happening, one thing is clear: there will be an impact felt across the globe. For those who are heavily dependent on oil imports, the impact is obvious—a massive stimulus for their economy. For those who have economies driven by oil production—like Russia and Saudi Arabia—big problems could lie ahead. And for America—a nation that consumes large amounts of oil and is now a player in oil production, thanks to its shale revolution—we certainly will find out.

To get to the bottom of these important questions, TNI Executive Editor Harry Kazianis interviewed Ian Bremmer, a TNI contributing editor and president of the Eurasia Group on where sustained, lower oil prices could take nations like Russia, America and others.

Kazianis: Oil prices seem to be falling with each passing day. The geopolitical ramifications, as well as economic ramifications seem immense. Who is the big winner when it comes to lower oil prices?

Bremmer: The single biggest beneficiary in the world is Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Whereas in the United States, lower oil prices are an economic good-news story that functions like a direct tax break for consumers at the pump, in China, the political ramifications are the biggest boon. Lower oil prices already are generating increased economic activity by growing household disposable incomes and facilitating corporate investments in a range of sectors from manufacturing to logistics. That helps reduce the need for more aggressive stimulus to prop up the economy, and most importantly, it buys Xi Jinping more time to implement his reform agenda.

Rajan Menon: For Security, Ukraine Needs an Army, the West—and China

JANUARY 13, 2015

Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Rajan Menon, chairman of political science at the City College of New York, has just co-authored a new book, Conflict in Ukraine,with Eugene Rumer of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The book, to be published in March by MIT Press, occasioned a discussion this weekbetween Menon and Ukraine specialist Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University.

Here are key points by Menon in his interview by Motyl on the World Affairs Journal website:

Ukraine’s needs to rebuild a relationship with Russia: “An isolated, nationalistic, and authoritarian Russia isn’t what Europe needs—and it’s certainly not good for Ukraine. Ukraine cannot afford to be in a perpetual state of war with Russia, if only because no Western soldier will ever be dispatched to die for Ukraine.”

It’s not certain that Ukraine can accomplish radical reforms: While Ukraine’s new government is headed by able, smart leaders, Menon says that is not enough. “It’s insufficient for reforms to be economically “correct”; they must be politically sustainable and introduced in the proper sequence, with provisions for softening their most malign effects.”

Kyiv should avoid trying to recover the Russian-held Donbas: A priority for the government should be “not dwelling on recapturing the so-called Donbas republics, to say nothing of Crimea,” Menon tells Motyl. “The loss of these lands, which have been anti-reform bastions, is a blessing in disguise for Ukraine. … Ukraine is now ethnically more homogeneous: that is a huge plus given its particular circumstances.”

Ukraine should rebuild its army, drop plans to join NATO and build relations with China: Menon urges Kyiv to build a “small professional force” shaped for defense against further Russian invasions. And “besides cultivating ties with the West, increase trade and investment with China so that it gains a strategic stake in Ukraine,” he says. Also, “Ukraine should renounce NATO membership,” notably because the alliance will not admit Ukraine as a member in any near future. Thus, "Kyiv loses nothing by relinquishing something it won’t get. … A no-NATO pledge combined with a no-forces-zone [in the disputed Donbas] patrolled by peacekeepers and observers can bolster Ukraine’s security and allay Russia’s main strategic concern.”

Islam and Central Asia: Threat or Myth?

January 14, 2015

During Vladimir Putin’s visit to Uzbekistan last December, Uzbek President Islam Karimov asked his Russian peer to help his country against the rising threat of militant Islam. While this article discusses why these calls for help are generally unfounded, an ironic coincidence shows that the most likely threat in the name of Islam will come in March, when Karimov is scheduled for re-election. The terms extremism, radicalism, terrorism and fundamentalism are used interchangeably by the leaders in the region to describe the threat that political Islam could pose to their well-established regimes. The ruthless violence of some groups, such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda, has been a recurring nightmare for Central Asian leaders and now it seems even more crucial, as U.S. troops leave Afghanistan. A haven for moderate Islam is under siege, according to the governments of the region.

Communication and discourse seem to be at the heart of the problem. The student of international relations would quickly tend to see the matter through a “securitization theory” lens. Without getting too academic, suffice it to say that several actors and their speech shape the way threats are constructed and become rooted in the discourse on national security. Rustam Burnashev, professor at the Kazakh-German University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, has extensively explained how Central Asian regimes “link Islamists with terrorism and violence” in order to ensure their own survival, without real or tangible concerns for the security of their citizens. After all, Central Asian governments have been quick to label any episode of violence as Islamic, from the civil war in Tajikistan to the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan.

On November 11, 2014, the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan (KNB) estimated that around 300 citizens were involved in ISIS. Beyond the headline, however, Chief Nurtai Abikayev provides little evidence to back his numbers. Repeatedly, local news agencies have spun the government’s discourse, emphasizing the threat. Even Russian outlets have pointed fingers to Central Asia for “bringing radical Islam to Russia.”

War-talk in the 21st century

By Sam Leith

High-tech, hybrid forms of conflict are changing the language of warfare, from Putin’s rhetorical land-grabs to violent videos and tribal tweets

Back in 1982, the British science-fiction comic 2000AD ran a story in which its hero Judge Dredd survived a nuclear war. Surveying the glow-in-the-dark wreckage of his city, Dredd was clear about the lesson that had been learnt: “Next time,” he said, “we get our retaliation in first.”

It’s a funny joke – and it’s funny because it arrives at its mordant candour by little more than tweaking the conventional public vocabulary of war. Every country has a “defence” budget, and what the money gets spent on (guns, bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, etc) looks “defensive” only in a distinctly extended sense.

But if that’s an old story, it bears asking whether there are new ones. From the second half of the past century onwards, the sorts of war we have been fighting have changed. The old model had nation-states facing off with standing armies of uniformed professionals. The wars we fight now are interventions, proxy engagements, counter­insurgencies, peacekeeping missions, police actions, asymmetric engagements and hybrid wars. You may sprinkle your sceptical inverted commas through that list according to taste.

Our wars now, like our politics, are more tangled; our means of communication both further-reaching and more plural. That has implications for the way in which the rhetoric of war works.

In the first place the word “war” itself is very often off the table. For politicians – mindful of legal and constitutional pitfalls, let alone public relations – “military action” is as close as they tend to get. Recently, President Obama made clear that a Russian incursion into any of the Baltic states, which are members of Nato, would result in a declaration of war. But what he actually said was: “We’ll be here for Estonia. We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before. With Nato, you will never lose it again.” Compare Churchill, who vowed to rescue “mankind from the foulest and most soul-destroying tyranny which has ever darkened and stained the pages of history”.

Corruption and Revolt

In October, 1951, a band of thieves hijacked a large shipment of opium in the port town of Punggol, in northeast Singapore. The Singapore of that era bore little resemblance to the one we know today: as a key entrepôt in the drug trade between India and China, the island was beset by crime and corruption. When British colonial authorities investigated the theft, they discovered that the culprits included several high-ranking members of Singapore’s police. In the aftermath of the scandal, the colonial administration created the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. When Singapore achieved independence, some years later, the new Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, announced that he was “sickened” by decadence and corruption, and pledged to rid Singapore of graft. Members of his government wore white shirts and trousers when they were sworn into office, as a signal of the purity of their intentions.

New leaders often condemn the venality of their predecessors, only to exceed it when they assume office. From Duvalier, in Haiti, to Fujimori, in Peru, to Erdoğan, in Turkey, it’s a predictable twist in the drama of political transition. But Lee delivered on the rhetoric, enacting new anticorruption legislation and bestowing real power on the anticorruption bureau. He raised salaries for civil servants, to minimize any temptation to sell their influence, and instituted harsh jail terms for those caught taking bribes. In 1986, Lee’s minister of national development, an architect named Teh Cheang Wan, was investigated for accepting kickbacks from two real-estate developers. He killed himself with a fatal dose of barbiturates, maintaining, in a suicide note addressed to Lee Kuan Yew, “It is only right that I should pay the highest penalty for my mistake.”

By the time Lee stepped down as Prime Minister, in 1990, Singapore had gone from being one of the more corrupt countries on the planet to one of the least. According to Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index, Singapore now ranks seventh in the world for transparent government—less corrupt than Australia, Iceland, or (by a good margin) the United States. The story is heartening but anomalous. It is almost unheard of for a nation to expunge a culture of corruption so thoroughly. Some countries get slightly better, some get slightly worse, but, the world over, corruption tends to endure.

The Trillion-Dollar Question: Are Low Oil Prices Here to Stay?

January 14, 2015

The recent collapse of oil prices raises questions not only about why, but, more significantly, about whether the new low-price regime will last. The answer on oil, as always, requires a look at three component considerations: (1) actual global demand for oil and gas, (2) actual global supply and (3) anxieties, usually based on geopolitics, about the first and second considerations. All three change constantly, seldom as forecast, but it is the third, the least stable of the three, that causes the sudden, dramatic price moves, including this recent one. Moderating demand and increasing supplies have played a role in the recent drama, to be sure, but the price decline stems largely from an abatement in geopolitical anxieties, at least as they pertain to oil. Such concerns will, however, likely return, confirming the now-well-established historical rule that no oil-price regime lasts long.

Moderated Demand

The demand part of the picture is the most straightforward. The use of oil and gas, in developed economies especially, has grown at a much slower pace than overall levels of commercial activity (or than was forecast at intervals along the way.) To some small extent, this shortfall has its roots in the growth of alternative energy sources—solar, wind, biomass and the like. But, for all the political emphasis and investment interest, this area accounts for the least of the change. According to the Energy Information Agency (EIA), alternatives amount to only 9.5 percent of all energy consumed in the United States. The figure is slightly higher in other developed economies and slightly lower in emerging economics. No doubt alternative development has kept oil and gas prices lower than they otherwise would have been, but not significantly and certainly not with the kind of sudden impact that would account for recent dramatic price moves.

DISA, CYBERCOM Stand Up New Cyber HQ

January 12, 2015 

Brig. Gen. Robert Skinner

When the Pentagon’s social media accounts get hacked, as they did today, it’s acutely embarrassing. When the military’s internal networks get hacked, however, it’s potentially lethal. But the Defense Department doesn’t have a single organization clearly responsible for defending those networks. That changes Thursday.

“In three days, we will have initial operational capability [IOC],” said Brig. Gen. Robert Skinner, chief of staff at the Defense Information Systems Agency and deputy commander of the brand new Joint Force Headquarters DoDIN. DoDIN sounds like some awesomeAvengers-themed codename, but it actually stands for “Department of Defense Information Networks,” the bland designation for the military’s massive labyrinth of computer systems worldwide.

The DoDIN does not include commercial networks like Twitter and YouTube, so the new Joint Force Headquarters probably wouldn’t have stopped the Islamic State-affiliated hackers who hijacked Central Command’s social media accounts today. (What’s more, there’s an entirely separate JFHQ already assigned to protect CENTCOM’s internal networks). But the new JFHQ has considerable authority over the 39 military organizations (at last count) that it works with.

“We’re kind of the orchestrator, I’ll say, for these 30-plus organizations that have some type of tactical level execution [responsibilities] in regard to the DoDIN,” Skinner told me when I approached him after his public remarks to industry group AFCEA this afternoon. Fine, I said, but if something bad is happening on the network right now, who can order people to stop it?

“Joint Force Headquarters DoDIN,” Skinner said. “We can send out an order to these organizations to perform some type of action to operate, secure, and defend the DoDIN.”