9 February 2015

The officers and gentlemen

Siya Sharma

In doing their duty, even death doesn’t make them flinch

One more soldier has laid down his life. It was heart-rending to see pictures of Colonel M.N. Rai’s very young daughter Alka paying him a last but resolute salute. He died an immortal death.

And why am I, of all people, even brooding about it? After all, somebody gets killed every day in the forces.

I am married to one of the gentlemen from the league extraordinaire. League extraordinaire, because he prefers travelling by train whenever he can, as he does not wish to misuse government money. Because during a competition, when none of the officers was supposed to run with 30 kg of weight at night for a distance of many kilometres, he ran with his men. And when one of his men fainted, he asked another jawan to carry that individual and volunteered to carry his 30 kg as well. Because during a field posting, his leave was sanctioned whereas his men’s leave was denied. He called me asking if I should have the luxury of seeing him, whereas the families of his men kept waiting for them. Teary eyed I was, but I had to tell him he was doing the right thing after all.

What is it that drive these men? The youngsters joining the defence forces do so not by compulsion but by choice, some may argue. Who asked them to volunteer! Was it love for the nation? At the age of 17, how many of us brim with patriotism? So why should a nation bother at all? They get Canteen Stores Department facilities, rations; they have helpers (civil servants do everything on their own!).

Well, barter your life for these perks: please, anyone? I won’t, for any number of zeroes suffixed to the pay packet. Why doesn’t each one of us hold responsibility for our own lives? Let each one of us pick up arms and guard our families. Then it might dawn on us, what an onerous task it is. The apprehension, anxiety, fury of anyone from the forces and their families can be understood only by actually being there.

Good gun, bad gun

Gail Collins 
February 9, 2015 

Things we can learn from American Sniper: You know the movie, right? It has not only been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar; it could wind up selling more tickets than the other seven nominees combined. Plus, it’s triggered a left-right controversy that makes the old dust-up over Duck Dynasty seem like a tiny cultural blip.

American Sniper tells the story of a real-life Iraq war veteran and sharpshooter. The film is certainly powerful, and it celebrates our Iraq veterans. But it also eulogises the killing of Iraq insurgents, including children, and critics feel it ought to be put in the context of an invasion that didn’t need to happen in the first place.

There’s been less conversation about the final scene in the movie, which shows the hero walking through his family home, where the kids are romping. He’s carrying a handgun, which he points at his wife Taya, playfully telling her to “drop them drawers.” Taya says she can see he’s finally getting over his war traumas and back to his old fun-loving self.

This is, by virtually any standard, insane behaviour. Mike Huckabee, a big American Sniper fan, recently published a book called God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, which is so wildly opposed to any weapon regulation that Huckabee opens his chapter on modern education by complaining that public schools are anti-gun. Yet he also presents a list of universally accepted gun safety rules, many of which boil down to don’t point it at anybody as a joke.

“Yeah, but if you want to complain about the casual treatment of guns in movies, you don’t have to look very hard on any Friday night,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Murphy hasn’t seen the movie, but he’s one of Congress’s leading advocates of gun-control regulation. It’s not the world’s most rewarding job. In recent years, his colleagues have not only refused to pass an extremely modest bill on background checks, they’ve failed to ban the sale of guns to people on the terrorism watchlist.

Uranium-rich Australian state to examine possible nuclear industry

February 9, 2015

South Australia, home to one of the largest uranium deposits in the world, will conduct an inquiry into the potential benefits and risks of establishing a nuclear industry there.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has said that a commission would be set up to investigate the potential of the nuclear industry to deliver economic growth and combat climate change, and to examine the risks involved.

Australia’s uranium reserves are the world’s largest, according to the World Nuclear Association, accounting for almost a third of known global deposits, but it has no nuclear power plants of its own.

“This is an opportunity to explore practical, financial and ethical issues raised by deeper involvement in nuclear industries,” Mr. Weatherill wrote on his Twitter account.

BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam mine in South Australia is one of the largest uranium deposits in the world.

In 2012, the global miner shelved a planned $20 billion expansion of the mine due to falling copper and uranium prices, dealing a big blow to South Australia’s economy.

It is now exploring a cheaper way to process copper and uranium from late 2016.

Australia is one of the world’s top exporters of uranium, mining 7,529 tonnes of uranium in fiscal 2011-12, worth A$782 million ($610 million), according to government figures.

Its existing three mines produced 7,488 tonnes of Triuranium octoxide (UO) last year, making it the world’s third-largest uranium producer after Kazakhstan and Canada.

A make in India conundrum

Vinay Bharat Ram
February 9, 2015 

RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s remark in his December 12, 2014 Bharat Ram Memorial Lecture on “Make in India, Largely for India” caused a lot of controversy. Arvind Panagariya argued in favour of export-led growth for India, as was the case with South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, especially given the vast pool of unskilled labour in India that can be adapted to low-wage products like garments, shoes and sports goods.

Rajan’s argument is based on the premise that the kind of economic growth that favoured Chinese exports to the US and Europe is slowing down in those countries and is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. Therefore, India should look to manufacturing for its internal market.

Both Rajan’s and Panagariya’s arguments fail to get the complete picture. Panagariya seems to want to use exports as a driver of employment generation for our vast pool of unskilled and semi-skilled labour, overlooking the fact that a large and growing volume of our exports now comprises of engineering goods, pharmaceuticals, software as well as components and semi-finished goods wherein skilled labour is required. While textiles and traditional items are still a significant part of our export basket, real growth will come from the aforementioned categories.

This brings us to Narendra Modi’s campaign for “Make in India”. It is a laudable objective, but it needs to be understood in all its dimensions. To begin with, a modern product like an automobile, a white good or a machine is seldom manufactured at one go. They use components and sub assemblies put together to get the final product over time. Irrespective of whether a foreign firm brings in FDI or an Indian firm sets up a manufacturing facility, the process will begin with making simpler components and gradually move to more complex ones.

The question is what proportion, in terms of components and sub assemblies of the final product, should be made indigenously and what proportion imported. This is largely determined by the foreign exchange rate, assuming the interest rate and other cost factors as given, except in the case of defence items, which are produced based on strategic objectives. How so?

Let’s take the example of China that, over decades, kept its exchange rate in relation to the US dollar artificially high. This resulted in a barrier to the import of wholly built-up goods like automobiles and others, made not just in the US but also other developed countries. Consequently, automobiles in knocked down form as well as other semi-finished goods were imported by China mainly through FDI and assembled using cheap indigenous labour.

The coming decline of social sciences

Shiv Visvanathan
Feb 9 2015 

The other day a friend of mine complained about the lack of gossip about the Social Sciences. He claimed that when an institution like the planning commission is erased, there should have been protest, debate, a sense of mourning because planning gave social sciences a focus. Planning demanded a new interdisciplinary among the social sciences and yet almost no one felt the need to debate its departure.

He said in an odd way the sources of social science are dying out. He cited three in particular. Civil society which provided the setting for many debates on energy, citizenship, democracy is silent. Even the debates on NREGA were more an act of accounting, budgeting than about citizenship and entitlements. Despite the best efforts of Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy, the NREGA debate, so symbolic of an approach to poverty, faded away. The problem exists but there is no problematic within which to discuss it fruitfully.

My friend claimed that TV had created a jingoistic, speeded-up social science. The social scientist lacks the telegraphic language of TV and, worse, lacks the space for debate. Apart from an occasional economist, TV hardly invites the social scientist. Even if it does, it pays court to the diasporic expert vacationing in India, pouring out his pound of nostalgia. Even newspapers have little that is academic, theoretical or philosophical. Print debates policy, confusing policy as plumbing with the music of socials science. Newspapers are content with catch phrases, instead of detailed analysis of a craft. 


By C. Raja Mohan
FEBRUARY 6, 2015

Little noticed in the joint statement issued by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj earlier this week in Beijing along with her Chinese and Russian counterparts was a brief paragraph urging all nations to mark the 70th anniversary of Allied victory in the Second World War.

On the face of it, the sentiment seems entirely unexceptionable. Not quite. While Russia and China see the Second World War as a defining moment in their national histories, the political leadership of independent India has tended to dissociate itself from the commemorations despite the massive contribution of its people to the war.

It is therefore welcome that India, along with Russia and China, chose to pay “tribute to all those who fought against Fascism and freedom”. “Russia, India and China affirmed the need to solemnly commemorate those historic moments of great significance in human history”, the three ministers added.

For Russia, the victory over fascist Germany in the second world war is a sacred national memory. For Beijing the Second World War is about the liberation of China from Japanese imperialism.

For both Russia and China, their special position in the international system as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council comes from their participation in the victorious coalition against fascist powers. Moscow and Beijing also won special concessions as great powers in the post war territorial settlements of of Europe and Asia.

The Indian national movement, however, had a problem. It was deeply divided on how to deal with the Second World War and the rapidly shifting alliances among the great powers. For Russia and China, the Allied war against fascism coincided with their national struggle against foreign occupiers—Germany and Japan respectively.

India, however, was torn between ousting the British Raj and joining the larger cause of defeating fascism. The Indian National Congress, refused to back the British war effort after negotiations with the Raj on the terms of support collapsed. Unlike the Congress, the Muslim League did not obstruct the Indian effort and won much support for the idea of Pakistan during the war.

Afghan cadets train in Pakistan, a sign of warming ties


For the first time, Afghanistan has sent members of its security forces for training in neighboring Pakistan.

The 18-month training program at a military facility in the northwestern Pakistani city of Abbottabad involves only six Afghan army cadets, but is a sign of increased cooperation between the two countries under new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

During former President Hamid Karzai’s administration, Afghanistan repeatedly denied Pakistan’s requests for closer cross-border military cooperation. Distrust between the neighbors ran deep, with Afghanistan accusing Pakistan of supporting the Taliban and other militant groups while Pakistan complained that Afghanistan did not stop cross-border attacks.

Ghani’s decision has been met with skepticism at home, with many Afghans saying it is too soon to reach out to Pakistan. Kabul has also granted Pakistan the ability to interrogate some extremist fighters captured by Afghan forces.

Amrullah Saleh, former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, said Pakistan must first “commit themselves to stop training the Taliban” before military cooperation is expanded. He said the step could prove “dangerous and shortsighted.”

In recent months, Pakistan has said it would crack down on all militant groups operating in its territory. Following the December raid on an army-run school that killed 132 children and caused shock around the world, Pakistan is under growing pressure to end a policy under which it tacitly sheltered some extremist groups that did not attack the Pakistani state.


FEBRUARY 6, 2015

While expressing hope that China would assist Sri Lanka in its development endeavors in the future too, President Maithripala Sirisena invited Chinese government as well as private companies to increase investment in Sri Lanka when the Chinese President’s Special Envoy and Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Liu Jianchao called on the President today.

Minister Jianchao who is currently on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka said China expected to further enhance the long –standing bilateral relations between the two countries and pledged his country’s continued assistance to Sri Lanka’s development.

The Chinese Minister extended China’s congratulations to President Sirisena on his election victory and said two main Chinese magazines have reported very positively about President Sirisena’s assumption of high office.

President Sirisena recalled with gratitude the assistance by China to Sri Lanka in the past especially commended the support given to Sri Lanka to eradicate terrorism from its soil.

During the discussion it was revealed that President Sirisena is scheduled to undertake a state visit to China in late March and during that visit many discussions will be held to further cement existing bilateral relations.

Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka Mr. Wu Jianghao and several other high level officials accompanied Minister Jianchao during the discussion.

Senior Advisor on Foreign Relations to President Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala and Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ms. Chithrangani Wagiswara were also present.

Eurasia Review is an independent Journal and Think Tank that provides a venue for analysts and experts to disseminate content on a wide-range of subjects that are often overlooked or under-represented by Western dominated media.

Despite the combined Eurasia and Afro-Asia areas containing over 70% of the world’s population, analysis and news continues to be dominated by a U.S. slant, and that is where Eurasia Review enters the picture by providing alternative, in-depth perspectives on current events.

India-US ties are essential to contain Chinese expansionism


President Barack Obama's historic second visit to India is viewed as a major success in the West in terms of weaning India away from its long-pursued posture of neutralism to finally join the global line-up drawn by the US. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood firm in terms of not compromising upon India's independent foreign policy, not buckling under US pressure to ink a climate deal, and his disagreement about Russia's bad behaviour. Even Henry Kissinger interprets the China-centric "Joint-Strategic Vision" document as India entering the "Asia equation" and a system of US-China relationship.

Having remained sceptical of the US rebalancing strategy, India has come a long way in global politics in a short span of time. Realists now find good reasons for joining the balance of power game especially as the best way to boost its immunity against threats, the best recipe to advance economic and military strength, and the shortest way for regaining India's supremacy.

The vision statement carries the most definitive intent in terms of curtailing the spread of the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean, which India considers to be within its sphere of influence. It is also reflective of India's seriousness in standing up against repeated incursions in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, the growing presence of Chinese construction troops in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and continued arms supplies to a Pakistan that sponsors and propels terrorists across to India. Clearly, India wants to create compelling pressures on China to stop nibbling away on issues that concern its core security interests. Many would argue that China respects the balance of power and refer to how Beijing started taking India seriously only after the 1998 Pokhran tests and the 2008 nuclear deal with the US, compelling it to sign a Guiding Principle agreement to solve the boundary problem with India. Perhaps this assumption proves right.

Don’t Get Your Hopes Up, Tibet: Why Obama's Meeting With The Dalai Lama Is An Empty Gesture


The Dalai Lama met publically with President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast, with predictable outcry from China. But nothing has really changed on either side—which is bad news for Tibet. 

Cham is a Tibetan ritual dance, a carefully choreographed ritual meant to bring blessings to the Buddhist community. 

The American and Chinese governments have long been engaged in a similar Tibetan ritual dance, also carefully choreographed, but one that has brought no blessings to anyone, least of all Tibetan Buddhists. 

Here’s how it works. American politicians meet and say lovely things about the Dalai Lama, one of the top 10 admired people in the world, but carefully avoid saying anything too overtly political. The Chinese government reacts with consternation. Nothing changes. A year or two later, the ritual is repeated. 

On February 5, the ritual dance took place at the National Prayer Breakfast, one of the few remaining occasions at which Republicans and Democrats still talk to one another. President Obama mentioned the Dalai Lama, who was in attendance, right at the beginning of his speech—just after God, Senators Bob Casey and Roger Wicker, and his wife, Michelle (in that order). Said the president: 

I want to offer a special welcome to a good friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama—who is a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion, who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings. I’ve been pleased to welcome him to the White House on many occasions, and we’re grateful that he’s able to join us here today 

India-China Riparian Relations: Towards Rationality

India and China have long been associated as rising powers in Asia. In order to boost their economy and growth rates, they need uninterrupted sources of water supply. Water has emerged as a contentious issue between India and China with complex inter-linkages. The leadership in both the countries acknowledge the water problem as an existential threat. Given the fact that China has 14 land neighbours out of which 13 are riparian neighbours, it is important to note that it has no water- sharing agreement with any of them. It is in this context the paper argues that it is the principle concern of India to bring water issues into the core of the bilateral discussions with China. The paper also identifies three major elements in India’s concerns over China being an upstream riparian : 

Dams and diversions; 

The resultant hydro-politics and power asymmetry; and The impact of climate change 

The paper further suggests, as a counter approach , strengthening of diplomatic tools for a structured dialogue that allows apprehensions of the lower riparian regions and states to be recognised and addressed.

As many of the regions in the world are lower riparian, including India, Dr. Sinha argued that a stable supply of water is critical to India’s growth and development. Since China is an upper riparian region when compared to India, hence, the “water rationali ty” or “water as a unifier” perspective becomes an important issue for discussion between the two countries for better riparian relations .

Dr. Sinha also outlined the “power asymmetry” that exists in river basins. Given the political equation between India and China, the latter will use its upper riparian advantage to circumvent any decision made on India’s behalf. It is also important to consider the food, energy and water nexus which is highly dependent on the rapidly changing ecosystem. This will prompt nations to take several actions, many of them unilateral, to secure resources and territorial sovereignty. It is thus essential that water resource utilisation policy takes into account the impact of climate change in terms of seasonal flow and extreme events.

Dr. Sinha also emphasised the middle riparian position of India and its dependence on the waters of the rivers such as Brahmaputra, and Indus and Sutlej which originates from the Tibetan plateau (which is under Chinese territorial jurisdictions) and then flows into Bangladesh and Pakistan, respectively. However, unlike China, India being an upper riparian state has had longstanding commitments to bilateral river treaties with the lower riparian states.

Mackinder Revisited: Will China Establish Eurasian Empire 3.0?

By Artyom Lukin
February 07, 2015

In 1904 the founder of geopolitics Sir Halford Mackinder famously pronounced the end of “the Columbian epoch” – that of the dominance of the Western sea power – and the advent of the age of land power, in which the Heartland of Eurasia, or “the pivot area,” would hold the key to the world domination. The pivot area largely corresponded to the territory of the then Russian Empire – occupying central and northern Eurasia.

Mackinder’s main concern was that a rapidly industrializing and expansionist Tsarist Russia could successfully challenge the West’s sea-power-based primacy, taking advantage of the Heartland’s geostrategic centrality and harnessing the huge potentialities of Inner Eurasia’s vast landmass. In actuality, Russia was never able to pull off such a feat – neither under the Tsar, nor in its Soviet reincarnation. It seems even less capable of achieving it now, being reduced to a rump of its former imperial glory and struggling with a shaky economy.

Nevertheless, it may be a little bit too early to write off Mackinder’s prophecies. For there has emerged another contender for the control over the Heartland: China. Although Beijing is making inroads in places as far away as Africa and Latin America, its main game is in Eurasia. We can only guess if Chinese leaders have read Mackinder, but the strategies they are pursuing are more or less in line with the British geographer’s theory.

For one thing, Beijing is aggressively seeking to (re)create the Silk Road that is envisioned as Eurasia’s superhighway – running through the Heartland and reliably linking China with other parts of the continent, such as Europe, the Middle East, Southeast and South Asia. In order to fund this grand design, new financial institutions are being created by China like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund.

Wake Up, America: China Is a Real Threat

James Jay Carafano
February 7, 2015

Between complacency and confrontation there is a responsible way forward that keeps the Asia-Pacific a big enough place to accommodate the vital interests of both Beijing and Washington. The heavy lifting will have to be done by the United States. That's okay. The work will make America a stronger nation and a better Asian ally.

In the last decade, the Chinese regime has shown itself to be anti-democratic, no friend of free markets, a first-class cyber bully and more interested in rewriting or ignoring international norms than in respecting them. Left unchecked, the Beijing method of managing international relations is not likely to make the world a better or safer place.

If America didn't share the same neighborhood with China, it might well ignore Beijing's behavior and let others deal with it. But China and the United States are stuck with each other.

Unfortunately, the current U.S. China policy isn't working. That’s why China thinks its U.S. policy is working—and Beijing's goal is to diminish and marginalize Washington's influence in the Asia-Pacific.

There is a diplomatic dimension to righting the relationship, but it requires the United States to work in a more synchronized manner with key nations that have the most to lose if China's bullying doesn't stop. Those nations are India, Australia and Japan.

There also has to be a military component to the U.S. approach. America won't be respected in the region if its armed forces aren't adequate to protect U.S. vital interests—namely ensuring freedom of the commons (air, sea and cyberspace) and deterring major regional conflicts (without relying exclusively on nuclear weapons).

Japan Wades Into South China Sea Issue

By Mina Pollmann
February 06, 2015

In the 1970s, when Japan first sought to craft a foreign policy identity independent of the U.S., it turned to Southeast Asia. Though Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei’s 1974 trip was greeted with protests, relations quickly improved with the 1977 promulgation of the Fukuda Doctrine, which promised that Japan would never again become a military power. Since then, Japan has been seen positively in Southeast Asia as a mentor and constructive partner.

However, despite this reservoir of soft power and major economic clout in the region, Japan has only been able to exercise marginal influence and has had difficulty being taken seriously. Part of the reason is that the U.S. remains the ultimate guarantor of security and stability in the region. And while the overall U.S. role will not change any time soon, regional dynamics are in flux as Japan develops a more robust foreign policy that seeks to promote Japanese interests and project influence abroad — starting in Southeast Asia, where disputes over islands in the South China Sea have attracted international attention.

Japan is interested in the South China Sea disputes gripping Southeast Asia for two main reasons. First, any tension in these waters could disrupt the free flow of traffic through critical sea lines, which are vital for resource-poor Japan’s economy and survival. Second, Japanese officials are closely monitoring how China handles these island disputes to try to discern how China might try to deal with Japan in their ongoing dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

The interconnectedness of these two issues is evident in the rife speculation that China might unilaterally declare an Air Defense Identification Zone in the South China Sea after it did so in the East China Sea in November 2013 (speculation which China has consistently denied). Such interconnectedness also leads to concerns that a negative outcome – a resolution of a dispute through the use or threat of the use of force – could set a precedent that affects other disputes. By supporting front-line states in the South China Sea, Japan sees itself as defending its own interests by upholding the norm of peaceful resolution, ironically, through military deterrence.

Deny the Islamic State the overreaction that it wants

February 5

Once again, an Islamic State killing leads to fears that it is winning and calls to do more. Fox News’s Bret Baier captured the mood when he said of the latest video: “Horrific and barbaric, as well as calculating and skilled at high-tech propaganda.” The general feeling is that the Islamic State is gaining ground with its brutal and diabolical methods. 

But is it really? Let’s examine the sequence of events that led to this latest gruesome video. The Islamic State took as hostages two Japanese men — an odd choice, given that Japan is utterly tangential to the Middle East. The terrorists asked Tokyo for a staggering $200 million ransom. This suggests that the much-vaunted moneymaking machine of the Islamic State might not be working as well as many believe. 

Tokyo refused to pay, so the terrorists were left with hostages who had no value. They executed one and then offered to release the other if the Jordanian government would set free a terrorist, Sajida al-Rishawi. This was a double head-scratcher. Japan does not have any great influence over Jordan. And Rishawi was a largely forgotten, would-be suicide bomber from an episode nine years ago — before the Islamic State even existed. The proposal suggested a last-minute scramble to manufacture a new demand when the main one was denied. Jordan considered making its captured pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, part of the bargain, and the Islamic Stateappeared to play along. Yet Jordanian officials now believe the pilot had actually been killed weeks earlier

The video of the pilot being burned to death may be a fancy cover to mask an operation that had gone awry. Certainly, the Islamic State could not have imagined the response it has triggered in the Middle East, with Jordanians united against it, clerics across the region loudly and unequivocally condemning the immolation and Japan ready to provide more aid and support against the terrorist group. 

Does the barbarism have a logic?

February 5 

Why did they do it? What did the Islamic State think it could possibly gain by burning alive a captured Jordanian pilot? 

I wouldn’t underestimate the absence of logic, the sheer depraved thrill of a triumphant cult reveling in its barbarism. But I wouldn’t overestimate it either. You don’t overrun much of Syria and Iraq without having deployed keen tactical and strategic reasoning. 

So what’s the objective? To destabilize Jordan by drawing it deeply into the conflict. 

At first glance, this seems to make no sense. The savage execution has mobilized Jordan against the Islamic State and given it solidarity and unity of purpose. 

Yes, for now. But what about six months hence? Solidarity and purpose fade quickly. Think about how post-9/11 American fervor dissipated over the years of inconclusive conflict, yielding the war fatigue of today. Or how the beheading of U.S. journalists galvanized the country against the Islamic State, yet less than five months later, the frustrating nature of that fight is creating divisions at home. 

Jordan is a more vulnerable target because, unlike the U.S., it can be destabilized. For nearly a century Jordan has been a miracle of stability — an artificial geographic creation led by a British-imposed monarchy, it has enjoyed relative domestic peace and successful political transitions with just four rulers over four generations. 

Compared to Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, similarly created, Jordan is a wonder. But a fragile one. Its front-line troops and special forces are largely Bedouin. The Bedouin are the backbone of the Hashemite monarchy, but they are a minority. Most of the population is non-indigenous Palestinians, to which have now been added 1.3 million Syrian refugees, creating major social and economic strains. 

Escape Artist: How a Legendary Hezbollah Terrorist Eluded the CIA


Beirut, 2003: The trap was set. U.S. counterterror operatives were ready to move. The plan called for a Lebaneser CIA asset to lure Imad Mugniyah, the terrorist kingpin of Hezbollah, to a place where he would be captured and flown to a U.S. Navy ship in the Mediterranean. From there he would be flown to a U.S. courtroom, where he would eventually stand trial for the murder of hundreds of Americans in Lebanon two decades earlier. 

But something went wrong. According to a former top U.S. counterterrorism official, the Lebanese go-between was murdered. The wily Mugniyah, variously known as “the fox” and “the father of smoke” (for his ability to disappear like a wisp after one of his spectacular terrorist attacks), had foiled yet another plot to capture him. The U.S. plan, the former counterterrorism official suspected, had leaked.

“We had him!” the official said, still exasperated years later about the failure to capture Mugniyah. Upon investigating, the official concluded that idle chit-chat by a careless U.S. intelligence official at a small party attended by Americans and Lebanese in Beirut on the eve of the operation had foiled the plot. 

“Some guy was shooting the shit an embassy social event,” he told Newsweekon condition of anonymity “We had the whole network set up. Everything was done, everything was in place. And then this guy runs his mouth.”

In February 2008, however, the CIA, working hand in glove with Israeli intelligence, finally caught up to Mugniyah. The details of how they assassinated Mugniyah with a car bomb, as reported by Newsweek and The Washington Post in independently sourced stories last weekend, remain a deeply held secret at the CIA.

Why Arming the Ukrainians is a Bad Idea

Jeremy Shapiro
February 3, 2015 

Steve Pifer is a good friend and a treasured colleague. And Strobe Talbott is my boss—so it goes without saying that I greatly admire his work. But as important as friendship and job security are to me, I still can only conclude that their proposal to arm Ukrainians will lead only to further violence and instability, and possibly a dangerous confrontation with Russia.

Steve and Strobe’s article (and the supporting report with several other prominent authors) rings with fury at Russian actions. And Russian actions are indeed outrageous. But moral indignation, no matter how righteous and satisfying, is not a strategy. A strategy needs to describe just how provision of American arms would make the situation better.

Rather than such a description, the article suggests that a just cause and the Ukrainian need and desire for weapons are enough to justify their provision. But it is hardly surprising that the Ukrainians want American arms in their war against Russia and Russian-backed separatists—they face the possibility of territorial dismemberment and would run any risk to preserve their state intact.

The Ukrainian calculus is one of immediate desperation. But the United States needs to think for the longer-term. And if U.S.-provided weapons fail to induce a Russian retreat in Ukraine and instead cause an escalation of the war, the net result will not be peace and compromise. There has recently been much escalation in Ukraine, but it could go much further. As horrible as it is, the Ukrainian civil war still looks rather tame by the standards of Bosnia, Chechnya or Syria. Further escalation will mean much more violence, suffering and death in Ukraine.

The report authors counter that if the United States does not stand up to Russia in Ukraine, the Putin regime will be emboldened to make similar mischief all over Europe and beyond. This is the familiar credibility argument that gave us the war in Vietnam, among other misadventures. In fact, U.S. credibility is not enhanced by making bluffs that we will not ultimately fulfill or by embarking on wasting wars that we do not need.

Ukraine needs America’s help

By Steven Pifer and Strobe Talbott

Steven Pifer is a senior fellow at the Brookings Insitution and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Strobe Talbott is the president of the Brookings Institution. He served as deputy U.S. secretary of state from 1994 to 2001. 

The new year has brought more misery to Ukraine. Separatist fighters, supported by Russian troops, have launched attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk. Diplomatic efforts have made no progress toward a settlement — or even toward firming up a cease-fire that has all but collapsed. The West, including the United States, needs to get serious about assisting Ukraine if it does not wish to see the situation deteriorate further. That means committing real money now to aid Ukraine’s defense. 

Following the intervention by regular Russian army units in eastern Ukraine in August, a cease-fire was hammered out in Minsk on Sept. 5. Observance of the cease-fire terms has been piecemeal at best, with regular shelling across the line of contact. 

After a December lull, fighting picked up again this month. The leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic recently said he will take all of Donetsk. The next day, separatists, possibly augmented by Russian troops,rocketed the city of Mariupol, killing some 30 civilians. 

Moscow has done nothing to promote a peaceful settlement. It did not withdraw its weapons, nor did it secure the Ukraine-Russia border, as it agreed to do in Minsk. Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deny that his forces fight in Ukraine — even as Russian television shows soldiers in action wearing Russian insignia. 

Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do

Ivo Daalder, Michele Flournoy, John Herbst, Jan Lodal, Steven Pifer, James Stavridis, Strobe Talbott and Charles Wald

We face a critical juncture in Ukraine. There is no real ceasefire; indeed, there was a significant increase in fighting along the line of contact in eastern Ukraine in mid-January, with Russian/separatist forces launching attacks on the Donetsk airport and other areas. Instead of a political settlement, Moscow currently seeks to create a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine as a means to pressure and destabilize the Ukrainian government. Russians continue to be present in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in substantial numbers and have introduced significant amounts of heavy weapons. This could be preparation for another major Russian/ separatist offensive.

 Russian success would fatally undermine Ukraine’s stability and embolden the Kremlin to further challenge the security order in Europe. It might tempt President Putin to use his doctrine of protecting ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in seeking territorial changes elsewhere in the neighborhood, including in the Baltic States, provoking a direct challenge to NATO. Maintaining Western sanctions are critical but not by themselves sufficient. The West needs to bolster deterrence in Ukraine by raising the risks and costs to Russia of any renewed major offensive.

That requires providing direct military assistance—in far larger amounts than provided to date and including lethal defensive arms—so that Ukraine is better able to defend itself. The U.S. government should provide Ukraine $1 billion in military assistance as soon as possible in 2015, followed by additional tranches of $1 billion in FY 2016 and FY 2017.... More

Russia’s Third Front: Mounting Anxiety Over Afghanistan

February 6, 2015

With most of the military forces of the United States and the North Atlantic Organization (NATO) having departed Afghanistan, Russia has grown increasingly anxious about a possible deterioration of the regional security situation. As 2014 ended, Moscow flatly called NATO’s Afghanistan policy a failure (Pajhwok Afghan News, December 31, 2014). Yet, at the same time, Russia insists that the North Atlantic Alliance retains responsibility for Afghan security even though its mission has ended. This paradox is a basic attribute of the essential ambivalence that dogs Russian security policy in the wider Central Asian region (Xinhua, December 31, 2014). So while Russia “has a stake in Afghanistan,” it wants others as much as possible to defend that stake. Moscow, itself, is neither prepared to send troops to Afghanistan, nor even to the border with Tajikistan (Indiaexpress.com, December 8, 2014; Interfax, December 29, 2014).

Central Asian leaders, like Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov, have warned that Afghanistan risks becoming another Syria or Iraq, and Vladimir Putin concurred with this assessment (Interfax, December 10, 2014). Meanwhile, Russia’s presidential representative in Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, likewise claims that Uzbekistan and Tajikistan know of and share Russia’s assessment of an imminent Islamic State–led invasion of Central Asia. Though, many Western analysts consider that assessment of the radical militant group’s capabilities, especially in this theater, as overhyped (Interfax, December 29, 2014). Similarly, Russia’s General Staff also expects the Afghan situation to deteriorate, and Kabulov anticipates the rise of Islamist fighters and an expansion of their operations to the borders with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan—if not beyond—by spring 2015 (ITAR-TASS, December 10, 2014; Interfax, December 29, 2014). Obviously, this assessment leaves Russia with few if any options, let alone good ones.

Indeed, the Taliban already reached that border by the end of 2014 (TOL Newsline, January 3, 2015), and some analysts assert that the Taliban is currently present and active in northern Tajikistan (1News TV, December 15, 2014). In his end-of-year interview, Kabulov went farther, claiming that about 100 Islamic State fighters have been deployed from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan to prepare an attack on Central Asia. Specifically, he warned that they had created beachheads on the border with Turkmenistan and Tajikistan (Interfax, December 29, 2014).

The Lowdown on Obama's New National Security Strategy

Julianne Smith
February 5, 2015 

A little less than a year ago, my colleague Jacob Stokes and I wrote a piece for Politico Magazine highlighting some of the challenges facing those drafting the next National Security Strategy (NSS), which at the time was supposedly just weeks away from release.

How would they address the rebalancing to Asia question? How to acknowledge counterterrorism victories, but also the fact that the terrorism threat has in many ways worsened? Would democracy and human rights play such a prevalent role as they did in the 2010 version? What would they say about rising powers, particularly those that are showing an interest in replacing the U.S.-led order? How might the NSS set a comprehensive cyber agenda that could reestablish trust with skeptical allies, a skittish business community and an increasingly worried U.S. public? Finally, we asked, what would the administration say about leadership, knowing a common critique of this team is that its failure to exert U.S. leadership has left the country weaker than ever before?

Despite that rather long list of substantive challenges, it appears the biggest challenge for the drafters was simply getting a final version out the door. Initially, the administration thought it might release the NSS in 2013, four years after the last version was rolled out. As is often the case, though, high-level meetings on the crisis of the week took precedence over those aimed at examining broader strategic questions. With Syria heating up, Russia annexing Crimea and China announcing an air defense zone and bullying its neighbors, no one felt like they could afford the luxury of a lengthy interagency debate on grand strategy. Furthermore, given the speed with which events were moving, senior policy makers worried that anything they drafted would become OBE—overtaken by events—within weeks, if not days. So the process languished for another two years.

What Really Drives Obama’s Military Strategy?

FEBRUARY 4, 2015

Is President Barack Obama casualty-phobic? That is the question raised by an intriguing think-piece by Greg Jaffe in the Feb. 1 edition of the Washington Post. Though Jaffe does not use that term, I suspect that he was wondering the same thing when he sat down to explore President Obama’s curious ambivalence and hesitancy regarding the military missions Obama has ordered the U.S. military to execute — and the equally odd messaging coming from the administration on these military operations. 

First, let’s define some terms. As I and my co-authors have explained elsewhere, most Americans — and certainly every president — are casualty sensitive, meaning that they view the human toll of war as a negative cost that must be weighed against any possible positive benefit from military action. If told we can achieve the same military objective but at a lower level of casualties (and with no other compensating costs), then every president would pick that course over one that promised no additional benefits but significantly higher casualties. By a similar logic, if told the human costs of an operation are going to be high, then every president will demand that the expected benefits of that operation be high as well. Degrees of casualty sensitivity can vary by the person and by the geopolitical era, and the technology of war clearly plays a role: because of advances in technology and our military prowess, it is reasonable to expect that the U.S. military can achieve certain battlefield objectives at much lower levels of combat deaths than was possible in other eras. Conversely, battle tolls associated with successful missions in an earlier era would be deemed unacceptable and signs of military failure today; as many Americans died in the successful D-Day landing in Normandy as have died in the entire Afghanistan war. So modern presidents rightly expect lower combat deaths from military operations today than earlier presidents did. 

It is not really interesting to note that President Obama is casualty sensitive in this sense of the word. 

Rice Pudding

FEBRUARY 6, 2015 

How you read U.S. President Barack Obama’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) will depend mostly on how you feel about the administration’s foreign policy to date. If you are an Obama admirer, you will see it as a reaffirmation of all the reasons you appreciate the president: his restraint, his prioritization of domestic issues, his sense of the limitations of American power, his desire to make fiascos like the Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan less likely on his watch. If you are a critic, you will see it as a confirmation of everything you feared: From its doctrine of “strategic patience” to its absolute absence of anything that actually resembles a real strategy, you’ll see it as the written embodiment of the attitudes and muddle-headedness that have diminished America’s standing internationally and contributed to deteriorating situations on the ground, from Ukraine to Syria, from Libya to Afghanistan. Or perhaps, if you are a critic of the president’s from the left, you will see it as dripping with hypocrisy, talking about a values-driven foreign policy that ignores, sidesteps, or whitewashes the president’s ratcheting up of drone strikes and NSA surveillance (before he began to criticize them), his failure to close Guantánamo, his reluctance to pursue real global financial reform, and his relative inaction on issues like immigration and climate until after his re-election for a second term.

Of course, if you are like most Americans, you won’t ever read it at all. Which is just as well. Along with being devoid of strategy, the document is also devoid of surprises or new ideas. That could be because its focus is not, as would be the case in a real strategic planning document, the future. Instead, it is the past. This document is really a brief filed by the president in defense of his record to date.

Obama's National Security Strategy: A Policy of ‘Sustainment’

Jacob Stokes
February 6, 2015

Perhaps the most important function of any National Security Strategy (NSS) comes in articulating an administration’s worldview, rather than detailing a specific to-do list. The 2015 NSS, rolled out by National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Friday, offers the most complete explication of the Obama administration’s worldview yet.

The document includes all the now-standard (and true) language about the indispensable nature of U.S. leadership and how America is a global force for good. But it also asks the right question, one that is now familiar to those who follow administration statements on U.S. strategy: “The question is never whether America should lead, but how we lead.”

The answer, as described in the NSS, tracks very closely to what Robert Wright dubbed “progressive realism” in 2006. Some are already calling it “strategic patience,” a term used in the president’s intro letter but nowhere else in the Strategy itself. But “sustainment” is probably a better term because sustainment does not imply simply trying to wait out threats and challenges but rather building strength and remaining firm in the face of them. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA)once characterized Obama's approach, which the NSS builds out, as: “defend ourselves unilaterally, and promote our values multilaterally.” The new NSS reflects much of that logic as well.

However it’s categorized, the new NSS focuses heavily on managing strategic risks, noting specifically, “we will prioritize efforts that address the top strategic risks to our interests.” The document shows an administration trying to gain a realistic picture of those risks without overhyping them, and then devoting resources to areas where they can be most effective in mitigating risk. A tough-minded approach to risk assessment should not be construed as a justification for disengagement from the world. The NSS makes an unequivocal case for sustained global engagement, asserting bluntly “our obligations do not end at our borders.”

It goes on to say: “We embrace our responsibilities for underwriting international security because it serves our interests, upholds our commitments to allies and partners, and addresses threats that are truly global.” No precipitous casting aside of global burdens here. Later, responding specifically to assertions that increased U.S. production of oil and gas can insulate America from world affairs, the document calls for “an expanded view of energy security that recognizes the collective needs of the United States, our allies, and trading partners as well as the importance of competitive energy markets.”