26 February 2015

Strategic patience on nuclear liability

T. P. Sreenivasan 
February 26, 2015 

The breakthrough in the nuclear liability issue is not a solution but a declaration of intent to resolve difficult issues. The final settlement may come at a different time under different leaderships. For the present, it is important to keep the dialogue going for the greater good of India and the U.S., and it may have value which goes beyond nuclear trade 

A month after the “breakthrough understanding” on the nuclear liability issue was announced by U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, its practical value now looks diminished, while its symbolic importance as indicating the willingness of the two sides — India and the U.S. — to start a new chapter in the relationship comes to light. It was a willing suspension of disbelief on both sides to move on to new areas of cooperation, which have revitalised a defining relationship of the 21st century. 

The irony of the announcement on the progress in the nuclear liability issue is that its architects were once the arch enemies of the nuclear deal. As a Senator, Mr. Obama had moved killer amendments to the deal in its early years. Mr. Modi’s party supported the liability bill to kill the deal, which they could not defeat on the floor of Parliament. Neither of them could have their heart in finding a way to open nuclear trade with each other. Mr. Obama would rather sell sophisticated weapons and technology to India to restore balance in bilateral trade. Mr. Modi has not listed nuclear trade in his list of priorities. 

A test for India 

A conspiracy of circumstances, however, made it imperative that Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi should make progress on the liability law. According to American commentators, the liability law was a test of the new Indian government’s strategic global outlook and willingness to fulfil its commitments. For Mr. Modi, the solution to the liability issue was necessary to revive the bilateral relationship in order to secure his primary objectives of “First Develop India” and enhancing defence technology. For both of them, it became a symbol of a new beginning, marked by a demonstrated ability to overcome impediments, even if it has left issues unresolved for the time being. A show of solidarity was more important than the commencement of reactor imports. It was the legal solution for a political issue. 


Claude Arpi 
26 February 2015 

Narendra Modi will undoubtedly need some of Louis XIV's worth to be able to transform India into a high-tech defence manufacturing hub. How and what to Make in India is a major issue to be solved for the Government

The Aero India 2015, organised at Yelahanka Airport in Bangalore on the theme, ‘Make in India’, was of great vintage. The presence of the Prime Minister was an important element. It is clear that Mr Narendra Modi has decided to radically change the stakes in the fields of defence, aerospace, civil aviation and defence manufacturing; he is determined to take concrete steps to manifest his ‘Make in India’ dream.

The Prime Minister’s visit to the stands was one of the highlights of the air show. To see him moving around, with the ‘masses’ watching from behind a tight and rough police cordon, made me think of Louis XIV, the powerful French king, walking through the gardens of Versailles Palace, followed by hundreds of courtesans and musketeers (in this modern case, the Special Protection Groups). There was something regal in the arrival of Mr Modi; like the Sun King, he seemed to say: ‘Le Roi, c’est moi’ (The King, it is me).

The Prime Minister will undoubtedly need some of Louis XIV’s worth to be able to transform India into a high-tech defence manufacturing hub, but the air show was an opportunity for Mr Modi to articulate his vision: “We have the reputation as the largest importer of defence equipment in the world; that may be music to the ears of some of you here. But this is one area where we would not like to be number one,” he added that India was ready to “build an industry that will have room for everyone — public sector, private sector and foreign firms.”

Towards a roadmap for the future

Bhaskar Dutta

There is little doubt that no country witnesses the kind of hype centred around the Central government budget that is observed every year in India. Discussions and opinion pieces about the budget figure predominantly in every newspaper, with all groups putting forth their views about what should or not feature in the budget. Our preoccupation with the budget perhaps has its roots in the regime when the government maintained a stifling hold on the economy. In those days - actually not so long ago - it mattered a great deal whether the finance minister announced any change in the levels of controls during the course of his budget speech. Today, most of the physical controls have been removed, and the tax structure too is relatively stable. Nevertheless, the budget continues to capture public attention mainly because successive finance ministers have announced major policy reforms during the course of their budget speech - although these could well have been announced at different points in the year.

Can the finance minister possibly satisfy all the demands and expectations that have been expressed? That is unlikely, simply because of their magnitude. More importantly, he should not be judged by this criterion since many of the demands are unrealistic. Instead, Arun Jaitley should be assessed by whether he has managed to provide the best possible fiscal environment within which the economy can achieve rapid growth with a human face (although the latter is not a term that has come to be associated with the current government), keeping in mind the difficulties posed by the existing state of the economy. He also needs to spell out what he views as the major constraints preventing the economy from growing rapidly enough and also the measures provided in the budget to relax if not remove these constraints.

As in most years in the recent past, the estimates of tax revenues and expenditures for the current fiscal year have proved to be very optimistic. In his first budget, Jaitley assumed that he could keep the fiscal deficit down to 4.1 per cent of gross domestic product in the current year and in fact slash it to 3.6 per cent in 2015-16. Unfortunately, tax revenues have been less than buoyant. We may find that the revised estimates are well short of the budget estimates! Fortunately, the overall deficit may still turn out be close to the target principally because there has been a huge reduction in the oil subsidy because of the steep fall in crude oil prices. There may also have been a slight degree of expenditure compression.

Is there a Place for ‘Total War’ in the Modern World?

February 23, 2015 

The way America has waged war in the post-9/11 era is controversial. Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere evolved into counterinsurgency missions. These efforts are “population-centric”, focused on winning locals to the coalition side. The Abu Ghraib prison abuses and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Program, among other controversies, revealed U.S. actions contrary to such efforts. Despite the focus on COIN and civil affairs operations over the last 15 years of war, there remains disagreement as to how America should be fighting these wars. Critics of the Petraeus-Nagl Doctrine argue that America would be better suited fighting enemies such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS much as they fight against America — with “Total War.” Unable to rule out the possibility of fighting future population-centric wars, America must resolve this debate and discard Total War techniques, such as torture, and to respect human rights — both because it is the more effective way to wage modern war and because the military should demonstrate American values abroad.

Total War

Total War is the subordination of political goals to the prosecution of war. Its only options are total victory or total defeat, and it is acceptable to attack enemy states or organizations without moral or legal discrimination between combatants and noncombatants. Total War is “fought heedless of the restraints of morality, custom, or international law…The most crucial determinant of total war is the widespread, indiscriminate, and deliberate inclusion of civilians as legitimate military targets.”

In the current operating environment, total war is the use of violence that does not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. This can be the punishment of whole populations for the actions of a few, creating free-fire zones in areas with known civilian populations, or the indiscriminate bombardment of urban areas to quell resistance. It includes taking the enemy’s family members prisoner to use as leverage or torturing detainees to gain information.

Pentagon chief says he is satisfied by U.S. campaign against Islamic State

February 23 

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter speaks to reporters after a regional security meeting in Kuwait. He said he was encouraged by the direction of the fight against the Islamic State. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Calling the Islamic State “hardly invincible,” new Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter gave his blessing Monday to the U.S.-led strategy against the militant group after convening a high-powered summit of U.S. commanders and diplomats here. 

Carter emerged from a six-hour strategy session with military leaders and ambassadors to say he was encouraged by the direction of the campaign against the Islamic State. He gave no indication that he would push for major changes in the Obama administration’s approach, despite urging from some members of Congress to move more aggressively. 

“The lasting defeat of this brutal group can and will be accomplished,” Carter told reporters at this U.S. Army installation close to the Iraqi border. 

At the same time, the Pentagon chief acknowledged that the war against the Islamic State has become more complex, with the militant movementspreading into North Africa and Afghanistan, showing few signs of budging from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, and drawing new recruits from Europe and the United States

Will America Ever Leave Afghanistan?

February 24, 2015 

Another "forever war" for the United States.

Since the war in Afghanistan formally ended at the close of 2014, hardly a week goes by without another report of the Obama administration considering revising its troop withdrawal timeline or that the current mission in Afghanistan is far from its putative non-combat advisory role. Indeed, just this weekend, during a surprise trip to the country, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said the administration is considering slowing down its troop withdrawal timetable.

Yet, during his State of the Union address, President Obama noted that Afghan forces “have now taken the lead” and touted America’s support for Afghanistan’s so-called “first democratic transition.” As the combat mission in Afghanistan ended last year, the president lauded the effort, asserting that the international coalition has “helped the Afghan people reclaim their communities, take the lead for their own security, hold historic elections and complete the first democratic transfer of power in their country's history." The administration has continually sought to portray post-2014 U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as an effort to train and advise Afghan forces to take the lead in securing the newly democratic Afghanistan. While the Obama administration publicly touts the success of the Afghan mission and the end of the war, deliberations over the contours of the post-2014 U.S. presence continue. All of this dissembling begs the question: is America’s longest war really over?

All indications suggest that it is not. For example, drone strikes have continued to target militants. Similarly, the New York Timesreported earlier this month that there has been a significant uptick in night raids by American Special Operations forces in recent months; it’s difficult to imagine how these endeavors could be labeled anything other than “combat operations.” During testimony on Capitol Hill on February 12, U.S. General John Campbell, the top American commander in Afghanistan, told lawmakers that he wanted “greater flexibility” to keep more troops in the country. Similarly, on February 10, the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration was “considering slowing its planned withdrawal from Afghanistan for the second time.” Just a week prior, Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he would consider revising (read: slowing down) the troop drawdown if conditions on the ground degrade. And while the administration considers slowing down the drawdownof the 10,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of civilian contractors remain in the country to train and advise Afghan forces.

America’s Freelance ISIS Killers

Jesse Rosenfeld

The Kurds fighting the so-called Islamic State are attracting combatants from all over the world. Some head into battle out of conviction. Others want to make a buck. 

DAQUQ, Iraq — The so-called Islamic State has recruited copious cannon fodder from around the world, along with quite a few ferocious fighters. But its toughest opponents on the ground, the Kurds of Iraq and Syria, are attracting Western ex-soldiers for their ranks who are determined to see the self-proclaimed “caliphate” not only “degraded,” as Washington puts it, but destroyed. 

At a Kurdish Peshmerga base on the fluid battle lines outside the ethnically and religiously mixed Iraqi city of Kirkuk, three American fighters sat down with The Daily Beast. We were less than half a mile from the black flags of ISIS, as the would-be Islamic State is widely known, and the soldiers asked that I not give too many details about their identities. They worry that their families could become special targets for a fanatical fighting force whose battlefields, like its targets, seem limitless. 

Dressed in a Peshmerga uniform, Jeremy is a compact, affable 28-year-old-guy from Mississippi who fought with U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s been fighting alongside the Pesh for the last six months. 

Leo is a tall and direct 38-year-old Texan who worked security for private military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Mel’s background also is in military security contracting and he says he served for a while with an army from a European country, but he won’t specify which. Mel’s a little eccentric. At 41, the Colorado native sports a pair of carefully pointed canine teeth—fangs, in fact— and a goatee that gives off a strong goth-metal vibe. 

Can The Chinese Army Fight a Modern War? Expert Says No.

Jane Perlez
February 23, 2015

U.S. Expert Finds Faults in Chinese Military Command

As exchanges between the American and Chinese militaries increase, so, too, do the reports of publicly available research on the People’s Liberation Army by American experts working outside the Pentagon.

This month the California-based RAND Corporation published a lengthy report on the weaknesses of the P.L.A. that focused on the human dimension rather than weapons.

Much of the research was based on open-source material in the Chinese military press. Now, a former Army attaché at the United States Embassy in Beijing, Dennis J. Blasko, has published a piece on the Chinese military not doing so well, and he draws on the military press for his conclusions.

In his article, “Ten Reasons Why China Will Have Trouble Fighting a Modern War,” published on the military affairs blog War on the Rocks, Mr. Blasko cited an antiquated chain of command, too many military personnel assigned to nonmilitary duties such as communications and transport, and too few officers trained in joint command operations.

In the past two years, Mr. Blasko wrote, Chinese Navy and Air Force officers have commanded joint exercises, but these appear to have been limited in scope and number. In late 2014, he said, the P.L.A. publicly recognized the lack of experience of its top officers in joint commands and announced a new program for the selection, training and appointment of joint operation commanding officers.

The China-Russia NGO Crackdown

February 23, 2015

Authorities in both countries apparently aim to cripple NGOs with foreign patrons or partners. 
Over the past few years, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have commenced nationwide crackdowns on civil society. Authorities are attempting to cripple non-government organizations (NGOs) with foreign patrons or partners. Which factors drive Russian and Chinese decision-making? Are the two nations acting independently, learning from each other, or even collaborating with each other? Most importantly, what are the ultimate objectives of leaders in Moscow and Beijing? 

Securing Secrets and Spotting Spies

President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial new treason law in July 2012. Russia’s previous law defined high treason as threatening the state through “espionage, disclosure of state secrets, or any other assistance” to foreign nations or organizations. The new law expands the definition to prohibit “financial, technical, advisory, or other assistance” in pursuit of damaging Russia’s security, especially its “constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity.”

Critics argue that Russian authorities are using the law to target domestic NGOs and activists who share documentation of human rights abuses – including open source information – with foreign governments; intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe; and international organizations. “Russia is tightening the noose around groups that are critical of the government, propose reforms, and promote human rights,” asserted Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Director Hugh Williamson. “The government seems intent on suffocating prospects for independent scrutiny.”

Prominent human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov also criticized the new treason law, arguing that its sheer breath could enable Russian authorities to “target absolutely legal, lawful activities of nongovernment organizations, civic activists, journalists, and even businesspeople.” Yet, during a meeting with the Russian Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, President Vladimir Putin insisted that the NGO law was meant solely to “ensure that foreign organizations representing outside interests, not those of the Russian state, would not intervene in our domestic affairs. This is something that no self-respecting country can accept.” He added that he does not believe “there is anything in this law that contradicts democratic development in our country.”

Time Bomb: China's Debt Is Out of Control

February 23, 2015 

“Once you start thinking about growth, it's hard to think about anything else,” remarked the economist Robert Lucas, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the topic. Policymakers in China agree.

Since 1979, GDP growth has symbolized the nation's dynamism, determination and confidence, and China's growth machine has spawned an industry of forecasters who jostle over decimal points.

In recent years, the totemic 8 percent has been gradually guided down to 7-7.5 percent as “the new normal.” National GDP hit 7.4 percent last year, controversially missing the 7.5 percent official expectation. Policymakers are attuned to market reactions, so feel obligated to deliver “7-point-something.” Growth at all costs has become a dangerous obsession, without heed to prudent economic management. There is alaw in economics stating that variables become meaningless once targeted; Chinese GDP might well qualify.

Of course China's GDP isn't meaningless. It's huge, it's real, and it's merely slowing “from a very big base.” It represents a stunning 40 percent of total world growth and it seems churlish to question it. Still, there's always been something a little fishy about this dataset. It gets reported far sooner (in 19 days) than in any other major economy. In punctual Tibet they report even before quarter's end!

More advanced economies regularly revise growth data retroactively; China's GDP is suspiciously accurate and seldom corrected. And it seems no longer to correlate well with other underlying indicators, suggesting officials or statisticians may be smoothing the data.

Shanghai's recent removal of its target is likely to be followed by other provincescurrently in thrall to “GDP-ism.” The economy's high and rising dependence on investment has been criticized as unsustainable. “7.X” growth, like the magic formula for Coca-Cola, is seen as contrived. There are a few cynics who mutter that the Chinese growth number is a fiction, too good and too stable to be true.

Questions about the war on the terrorists

By Martin Petersen
February 22, 2015

If the West wins, the intelligence agencies must find answers

For all the ink that has been spilled over intelligence and interrogations in the last year, three critical questions have not been addressed and need to be soon, especially in light of recent events in Paris and the horror that is the Islamic State: What is the mission, what are the rules, and what is the tolerance for risk? Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently said the threat “is beyond anything we’ve faced,” and it is foolish to think an attack like we saw in Paris cannot happen here.

I have been an intelligence officer for more than 40 years, and I know that these are questions that can only be answered by elected officials, opinion makers and the American people. The answers are political decisions and have far-reaching implications that we as a nation must be willing to live with.

The mission question is really two questions: Where do you want the intelligence community to focus its limited resources, and how do you want to deal with the terrorism issue, specifically? If you see the United States as a global power with global interests, then you want a global intelligence capability and a global presence. It must be resourced accordingly.

If you believe the United States is principally threatened by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction — and we should not collect intelligence on friends — then the intelligence community needs to be structured and resourced to focus on those issues, much as we focused on the Soviet Union and Communist world during the Cold War. This, of course, increases the likelihood we will be surprised by Arab Spring-like developments in areas where we are not focusing.

Obama's Rushing to Disaster in Iraq

FEB 23, 2015

Now would be a very good time for U.S. President Barack Obama to think about what happens after Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, is liberated from the Islamic State.

Last week, top Pentagon officials briefed reporters about plans for the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces, with U.S. air support, to retake Mosulin April or May. Iraq's prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi, has been more sober, telling the BBC that he hoped Mosul would be retaken in a "few months." On Sunday, Iraq's new defense minister declined to say whether even this time frame was realistic.

There are sound reasons to welcome the fall of Mosul. It would give momentum to an Iraqi army that really needs to show some success to appeal to future recruits. It would also be a huge blow to the jihadis, who want to prove the caliphate they have declared is a historical inevitability. Losing Mosul, a city made up largely of fellow Sunni Arabs, would refute a case their propagandists have made skillfully on social media.

But the apparent disagreement over the time frame is significant: If Iraq were to re-take Mosul without a real plan for what comes next -- i.e., having credible Sunni Arab leaders in place to administer the city -- it could intensify sectarian hostility that is already breaking Iraq apart.

The worse-case scenario is a repeat of what happened in Amirli, a town north of Baghdad that was retaken from Islamic State forces in September by a mixture of Iraqi army troops, Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite militias supported by Iran. Human rights groups have been documenting how in the aftermath of the battle, Shiite militiamen attacked Sunni Arabs who were not connected to the Islamic State and burned the homes of Sunni families, simply as retribution. In Congressional testimony in December, Sarah Margon, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch said, "crudely empowered Shia militias are being used to punish the Sunni population because of its sect." 

Why the Iraq offensive will fail

February 20, 2015

Unless the president faces up to the real threat, the plans to retake Mosul don’t have a chance. 

American officials said this week they plan to train up to 25,000 Iraqi troops in a major mission to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from Islamic State militants sometime this spring.

The mission is welcome, but frankly it is unlikely to succeed unless there is, at the same time, a deeper understanding on the part of our government of the real threat that the Islamic State and its adherents pose to us as a nation—and what our role in this broader fight must be. Unless the United States takes dramatically more action than we have done so far in Iraq, the fractious, largely Shiite-composed units that make up the Iraqi army are not likely to be able, by themselves, to overwhelm a Sunni stronghold like Mosul, even though they outnumber the enemy by ten to one. The United States must be prepared to provide far more combat capabilities and enablers such as command and control, intelligence, logistics, and fire support, to name just a few things.

Yet to defeat an enemy, you first must admit they exist, and this we have not done. I believe there continues to be confusion at the highest level of our government about what it is we’re facing, and the American public want clarity as well as moral and intellectual courage, which they are not now getting.

How does Islamic State justify its atrocities in name of Islam?

February 6, 2015 

Jordanians attend the Muslim Friday prayers, surrounding posters of slain Jordanian pilot, Lt. Moaz al Kasasbeh taped on a light pole, ahead of an anti-IS group rally in Amman, Jordan, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. Arabic on the posters reads, "Moaz is the martyr of the right, Jordan's eagle, to heaven, the country's martyr."

Cesari is a world-renowned scholar of Islam who directs the “Islam in the West” program at Harvard University and leads the Berkley Center’s Islam and World Politics program at Georgetown University. Last year, Cambridge University Press published her most recent book, “The Islamic Awakening: Religion, Democracy and Modernity,” which was based on three years of research in Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan and Tunisia. 

WASHINGTON — Muslims across the globe have condemned the Islamic State’s blood lust, calling the extremist group’s tactics forbidden under Islam and an affront to humanity. So how do zealots claiming to represent a pure and true Islam square their actions with traditional Islamic law?

Can One Theory Win in Iraq Back-to-Back?


The scholar/soldier best schooled in counterinsurgency, Nagl argues persuasively that the U.S. should prepare not for wars it wants to fight but for those it’s most likely to fight. 

Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War and Theory and Practice is a provocative and engaging book by a soldier-scholar who played a crucial role in reviving counterinsurgency in the American military at a time (2004-2008) when the Powers that Be did not especially want it revived, despite the nation’s deep involvement in two insurgencies it appeared to be losing. Much has been written about this subject—and, indeed, about this author—elsewhere, but Nagl’s memoir offers at one and the same time arresting new insights into the saga of counterinsurgency’s adaptation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a very sound, approachable overview of the doctrine’s constituent parts. 

It’s very hard to read this book and not come to like Lt. Col. John Nagl. He is clearly an ambitious and hard-driving guy, but he is also self-deprecating and unfailingly respectful of his intellectual adversaries inside and outside the Army. As to the seriousness of his devotion to serving his country, and especially his fellow men and women in arms, there can be no doubt. 

Carter summons U.S. military commanders, diplomats to Kuwait

February 22 

Calling ground troops one of the tools that may be used in the complete defeat of Islamic State, the defense secretary cautioned that all steps in a plan must be thoroughly thought through. (AP) 

KUWAIT CITY — New Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, seeking to put his imprimatur on the U.S. fight against the Islamic State, has summoned about 30 high-ranking military commanders and diplomats to Kuwait for an unusual session to review war plans and strategy.

The summit, which is scheduled to take place Monday, will include the U.S. military’s combatant commanders for the Middle East, Africa and Europe, the three-star Army general in charge of the war in Iraq and Syria, the head of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, several ambassadors in the region and other key players from Washington.

Defense officials said Carter called the gathering immediately upon taking office last week so he could more fully familiarize himself with the strategic underpinnings of the U.S.-led international campaign against the Islamic State. They said Carter was not necessarily seeking to change the fundamentals of the strategy, but they made clear that he would ask hard questions and press commanders and diplomats to justify their current approach.

4 Iranian Threats That Terrorize Saudi Arabia

February 24, 2015 

These four Iranian capabilities keep Saudi leaders awake at night.

The Middle East is experiencing unprecedented upheaval, and by all indications the region is likely to remain in turmoil for the foreseeable future. From Yemen to Bahrain to Syria and Lebanon, the sectarian agendas and geopolitical maneuverings of the two regional heavyweights – Iran and Saudi Arabia – will likely remain the key drivers fueling the regional fire.

Despite the pledge by Iranian authorities to be committed to the principle ofvahdat-e Eslami (Islamic Unity), their perspective on Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief Sunni rival, has always been one of religious suspicion and regional competition. To be fair to the Islamic Republic’s leaders, Iran’s troubles with the Saudis predate them by some time. Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been geopolitical rivals in the Gulf, including during the reign of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1941-1979). The establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979 only exacerbated tensions and in particular heightened sectarian differences. Tehran was busy seeking to export its revolutionary Shia ideology while the Saudis were increasingly bankrolling anti-Shia Sunni radical movements from the Indian subcontinent to the Levant.

When the United States removed Saddam Hussein, paving the way for the Shia to seize political power in Baghdad, the Saudis were both indignant and increasingly committed to stopping Iran and its Shia regional allies. This is where we are today. The most recent chapter in the Iranian-Saudi race for influence is unfolding on Riyadh’s doorsteps in Yemen, where the anti-Saudi Shia Houthi movement has seized the capital, Sana’a.

In the context of Iranian-Saudi competition, perceptions matter a lot, and help shape countermoves. While Tehran probably had very little to do with the latest events in Yemen, the Saudis are bound to see Iranian machinations at work. As the Saudis contemplate their next move against Tehran, here are four Iranian capabilities they should keep in mind.

Missile power

Carter: Cuts Make Strategy 'Not Executable'

By John T. Bennett
February 4, 2015 

Nominee Vows to Give Obama 'Most Candid' Advice
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration's defense secretary nominee says he cannot execute the existing national defense strategy if more across-the-board budget cuts occur.

Ash Carter, a former deputy defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday he believes "the strategy is not executable under sequestration-level budget caps."

In written responses to questions posed in advance by the committee, Carter explained how he will gauge whether the US military is getting ample funding.

"The measure must be, can the department meet the security challenges of today, while also investing adequate resources to prepare for future security challenges, both the expected and the unexpected," Carter says.

"There has to be balance," he added. "The department should have sufficient capacity to deal with the wide range of challenges we face, yet not maintain more capacity than we can afford to modernize and keep ready, given that we also have a responsibility to the force of the future."

UN wants to use drones to engage in peacekeeping operations


UN wants to use drones to engage in peacekeeping operations

Head of the UN’s peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsous (second right), inspects an UAV used in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, during a ceremony in Goma in 2013. Photo via MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

The United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations is aiming to be at the forefront of technological advances, according to a report calling on the use of drones in peacekeeping operations.

The findings for the report were compiled by a five-member UN panel on technology and innovation, led by peace and security expert Jane Holl Lute. The panel attempted to discredit concepts, in what it referred to as ‘exploding the myths’.

Perhaps the most interesting ‘myth’ the panel addressed related to the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), more commonly known as drones, into combat zones. In the panel’s example of a wrongful opinion, it suggested drones are “nothing more than a particularly non-transparent and intrusive technology - into mission areas for narrow political purposes”.

The UN’s rebuttal said, however, that on the grander scale of the situation, drones’ involvement would be limited.

“While unmanned aerial systems (UAS) do give dramatically greater visibility into a mission area, they can hardly be considered more intrusive than the mission itself,” the report said, but added, “They are simply too useful a tool to pretend otherwise. That said, the panel believes strongly that the deployment and use of UAVs, and the systems that underpin their use, must be fully transparent from the start.”

​‘16 nuclear reactors vulnerable to terrorist drone attacks’ – UK govt adviser

February 23, 2015

Hinkley Point B Power Station in Bridgwater, southwest England (Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett / Files)

Britain’s aging nuclear power plants are vulnerable to terrorist attacks by unmanned drones that could kill thousands of people, a government adviser has warned.

John Large, an engineer for Britain’s Atomic Energy Authority, says ministers are ignoring risks posed by nuclear terror assaults.

Nuclear power stations around the UK suffered 37 security breaches in 2014 – the highest number since 2011.

Large is calling for urgent security reforms. He is also demanding the government set up a major operation to test the resilience of Britain’s power plants against prospective attacks.

Too much energy is focused on risk assessments relating to accidents at nuclear power plants than potential terror attacks, the engineer argues.

In a bid to sketch out contingency responses, Large analyzed a series of hypothetical attack scenarios. Each one’s scale of devastation varied, with casualties ranging from one to tens of thousands.

The U.S. Government’s Secret Relationship With the World’s Biggest Arms Dealer, Sarkis Soghanalian

Edited by Lauren Harper
February 23, 2015

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 502 

The Merchant of Death’s Account Book: Declassified Documents Reveal More Information on Government’s Opportunistic Relationship with World’s Biggest Arms Smuggler, Sarkis Soghanalian

Washington, DC, Posted February 23, 2015 — Documents posted for the first

time — in a collaboration between the National Security Archive and VICE

News — provide insight into the U.S. government’s paradoxical and

opportunistic relationship with arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian, whose

larger-than-life deals were so well known that he was an inspiration for

Nicholas Cage’s character Yuri Orlov in the 2005 film, Lord of War.

Sarkis Soghanalian was the Cold War’s largest arms dealer, made over $12

million a year at his peak, and had his hand in seemingly every major

conflict across the globe — with the U.S. government’s tacit approval. His

largest weapons deal was a $1.6 billion sale to the Saddam Hussein regime at

the outset of the Iran-Iraq War that included U.S. helicopters and French

artillery, and he sold arms to groups in Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, and

Peru from the 1970s through the 2000s. Soghanalian was nicknamed the

"Merchant of Death" for arming so many conflicts, a moniker he dismissed by

arguing Alfred Nobel was called the same for inventing gunpowder, “and then

they named it the Nobel Prize.” At one point the U.S. government indicted

Soghanalian for, among other things, wire fraud and violating United Nations

(U.N.) sanctions, but then freed him another once he provided useful

U.N. Panel Recommends More Drone Use in Peacekeeping Operations

February 23, 2015

U.N. panel urges increased use of drones in peacekeeping missions

(Reuters) - A United Nations panel assessing the future technological needs of peacekeeping missions has recommended dramatically expanding the use of unmanned surveillance drones in U.N. military operations, the head of the panel said on Monday.

Jane Holl Lute, who was previously U.S. deputy secretary for Homeland Security and a senior U.N. peacekeeping official, said that was one of 119 recommendations the expert panel on technology and innovation in U.N. peacekeeping made in a new report.

"We make a very strong recommendation that drones, or the capacity for aerial visualization, is a capacity every mission should have with very few exceptions," Lute, who led the expert panel, told reporters.

Lute said her panel’s report, which was prepared for the U.N. departments of peacekeeping and field support, was widely discussed with U.N. troop contributing countries, which reacted favorably. Some nations did, however, raise questions about how information gathered by U.N. drones would be stored and shared.

The panel’s recommendation, she said, was that the United Nations would own the information gathered by it and there would have to be strict rules and procedures covering the use of drones and the imagery received from them. She also denied that the U.N. would become an intelligence gathering body.

"The U.N. needs information to operate safely and securely and with integrity and with effect," she said. "You want basic information when you go out for a drive. Does that make you an intelligence gathering entity? No. You just want to know the environment you’re walking into."

The United Nations began using surveillance drones in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in December 2013. U.N. officials and diplomats have said drones have helped peacekeepers track armed groups in the dense landscape of eastern Congo.

It is also planning on using drones for its peacekeeping mission in Mali.

3 Countries Asked to Bid for Largest-Ever Australian Defense Contract

February 24, 2015

A competitive evaluation process will take 10 months to complete. 

Last Friday, the Australian government has asked Germany, France, and Japan to bid for the country’s largest defense procurement program in its history. Three shipbuilding companies are now vying for a $39 billion contract to build Australia’s new submarine fleet in partnership with Australian industry, which is supposed to create around 500 new jobs in the country – mostly in South Australia.

“It’s very important that we get the best possible submarines at the best possible price, maximizing Australian involvement in their construction and maintenance,” emphasized Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a recent statement.

According to Bloomberg News, Defense Minister Kevin Andrews stated that “All three countries have proven submarine design and build capabilities and are currently producing submarines.” The “competitive evaluation process,” he further noted will take 10 months to complete. The Swedish company Saab was not invited to bid for the contract, although Swedish Defense Minister, Peter Hultqvist, is still hoping that his country will have an opportunity to deliver an offer. Saab owns Kockums, the Swedish company that designed and built Australia’sCollins-class submarines.

Defense Minister Andrew’s office released details on the specifics of the bids. These include: 
“pre-concept designs” that must meet Australia’s capability requirements; 
options for designing and building the boats overseas, in Australia, or through a “hybrid approach”; 
rough costs; 
and their position on commercial issues such as intellectual property rights and their willingness to share technical data with Australia. 

According to the government, Australia’s strategic requirements for the new submarine fleet include: 
a range and endurance similar to the current Collins Class submarines; 
sensor performance and stealth abilities better than the Collins; 
a combat system and heavyweight torpedo developed jointly by the US and Australia as the preferred combat system and armament. 

This Is What Putin Really Wants

February 24, 2015 

Putin doesn't want to restore the Russian Empire or a new geopolitical order. He wants something else entirely...

At a news conference in Budapest on February 17, Russian president Vladimir Putin engaged in one of his favorite pastimes: sparring with journalists. One reporter asked if Putin thought the newly brokered ceasefire in Ukraine’s Donbas region would hold. If not, what would Russia do if the United States sent weapons to the Ukrainian army? “Arms supplies are already taking place,” Putin asserted. Then, in a manner more suited to sports commentary than diplomacy, Putin declared that, in any case, the military game was already over in the Donbas. Kyiv (and by implication, the United States) had been beaten, by a rag tag rebel team of miners and farmers. “It is never easy to lose of course and is always a misfortune for the losing side, especially when you lose to people who were yesterday working down in the mines or driving tractors. But life is life, and it has to continue. I don’t think we should get too obsessed about these things,” said Putin. With these flippant remarks, Putin depicted the Ukrainian military defeat as a round in a much bigger tournament where everyone is a bit player in Russia’s competition to call the shots in its neighborhood. Right now Putin thinks he is on a winning streak.

In Ukraine, and in his whistle-stop trip to Hungary, Putin is out to score points for Russia. He is not out to win friends in Ukraine or Europe. Nor is he out to restore a Russian empire, or build a new Moscow-centric geopolitical order. Putin wants respect for Russia, not external obligations. He wants respect in the old-fashioned, hard-power sense of the word. Other countries should proceed with caution if they consider trampling on Russia’s interests. In the neighborhood, now that he essentially has the Crimean city of Yalta back in the fold, Putin wants to turn the clock back seventy years to the old “Yalta agreement” of 1945. He is pushing for a new division of spheres of influence. For Putin, the contours of Russia’s sphere correspond with the historic boundaries of the Russian Empire and the USSR. Here, Moscow’s priorities override all others. Russia—as Putin has stressed in numerous speeches––is the only country in this neighborhood with a unique civilization (rooted in Russian Orthodoxy and language), a long imperial history, a robust economy (based on energy and abundant natural resources) and the capacity to defend its territory and project power abroad. In the international arena, the United States and China are in the same category (although Putin is often scathing about the United States), but few other states have independent standing.

3 Issues Poisoning U.S.-Israeli Ties

February 23, 2015 

Much of the punditry regarding the current state of the U.S.-Israeli alliance has focused on the volley of slights and insults between Jerusalem and Washington. A small number of former Obama administration insiders, such as Derek Chollet, have pushed back, pointing to the personal ties between American and Israeli defense ministers. The alliance is not breaking up, but we would be in serious denial to keep saying ties are not strained (or that they are stronger than ever). The problem is not (entirely) personal. For all of our shared interests, America and Israel diverge on three key topics: Iran, Syria, and Qualitative Military Edge (QME).

Yes, recent U.S. and Israeli defense ministers have had excellent relations. Thisdid not stop the Obama White House from snubbing Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s request for meetings with everyone from Vice President Biden to Secretary of State John Kerry after he made a series of insulting remarks. But this misses a more fundamental point. Relationships matter, but they aren’teverything. When former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was Ambassador to Washington, Henry Kissinger was his mentor. When Rabin succeeded Golda Meir as Prime Minister after his stint in Washington, Rabin’s personal ties did not stop Kissinger from threatening to “reassess” the relationship unless Israel moved forward with the peace process with Egypt.

Today, Israel and the United States have divergent interests on three fronts: Iran, Syria, and the maintenance of the Jewish state’s QME.

Zen and the Art of PowerPoint

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love PowerPoint

Do you hate PowerPoint? I mean really hate PowerPoint? Get over it. It’s not going away anytime soon.

No matter who you are, no matter what you do, your time will come. And, if the odds remain consistent, your weapon of choice won’t be pithy remarks on 3x5 cards, a snappy information paper, or a brilliant “elevator speech.” It’s going to be a stack of PowerPoint slides.

From industry boardrooms to the hallowed halls of the E-Ring, PowerPoint (or a close derivative) is the medium of choice for communicating key ideas between groups of people. On any given day, someone somewhere announces the death of PowerPoint, yet when the sun rises with another day, it’s still there. Laughing at you, mocking you, dragging you down into the depths of PowerPoint Hell.

The reality is that PowerPoint really isn’t the problem. It’s just a tool, after all. The problem is the tool behind the tool. The major who seems to forget the “brief” in “briefing.” That clown in the G-2 who insists that the weather makes every slide classified. The half-illiterate buffoon whose slides would make Webster roll over in his grave. You know who I’m talking about. And you’ve endured the misery of their meager attempts to communicate.

But this isn’t about them, it’s about you. It’s about making you a better briefer. A better communicator. Someone able to convey ideas concisely and clearly. Someone who doesn’t make people cringe when they see you walking into a conference room. This is about finding your Zen. In a PowerPoint slide.

So, how can you attain Zen? How can you find your PowerPoint happy place? 
Karaoke. This is the most common trap for briefers, the tendency to read back the slides. Every. Last. Word. Assume your audience can read. When you brief a slide, highlight what’s important, emphasize the key points. Give them time to read the slide and don’t linger in the silence like a bad fart in church. 

What Is the Future of War?

FEBRUARY 23, 2015

Facing a new inflection point, 'Future of War' project members sound off with their take on where conflict is headed in the 21st century. 

Whether it has been fought with sticks and stones or improved explosive devices and drones, war has been a seemingly permanent and unchanging part of human history for the last several millennia. It remains a tragedy caused by our human failings, violence and politics crossed to awful consequences.

Peter W. Singer is a strategist and senior fellow at New America, consultant for the U.S. military and Defense Intelligence Agency, author of multiple bestselling books including Corporate Warriors, Children at War; Wired for War; Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know and the ...Full Bio

And yet, it is also clear that the forces that shape warfare, in everything from the tools we use to fight to the locations where we battle, are at an inflection point of change. Indeed, the very definitions of what is “war” and “peace” may even be shifting. It is with this in mind that New America, a nonpartisan think tank network; Arizona State University, the nation’s largest public university; and Defense One, the home for innovative online reporting and debate about security, have teamed up to launch a new series on the future of war. The site will host original reporting, commentary, analysis and public databases, all designed to help us better understand the new trends, technologies, and forces shaping war.