20 March 2015

Hitting all the wrong notes in J&K

M. K. Narayanan
March 20, 2015 
The Central government headed by the BJP does not possess the kind of levers needed to deal with the ground realities in Kashmir. It needs to do more than merely making strong statements from time to time in the belief that this would check the profligacy of the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and his cabinet on matters of security

Events in Jammu and Kashmir seemingly appear more surreal than real, making it difficult to separate the truth from perceptions. The 2014 elections in Jammu and Kashmir had raised expectations of a significant shift in a progressive direction as far as the State was concerned. The national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had between them secured over 45 per cent of the vote, an increase of more than 14 per cent when compared to the 2008 elections. Thus, the perception was that this would herald closer cooperation between Srinagar and New Delhi. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be happening — at least not yet.

Skewed mandate

A contributory factor, possibly, has been the skewed nature of voting patterns which convey the impression of a sharp divide — between a predominantly Muslim populated Kashmir Valley and the Hindu majority Jammu region. Votes in the Valley largely went in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), virtually shutting out the BJP as Jammu voted overwhelmingly for the BJP. The seat arithmetic did not provide much scope for the emergence of a stable government, unless the PDP and the BJP — representing two opposite poles of the political spectrum — combined forces. This did eventually happen, but only after an extended and corrosive delay. Moreover, the contents of the common minimum programme of the two parties, which was forged after several rounds of discussion, hardly inspire confidence about the longevity of their understanding.

Managing an “unlikely coalition” of this nature, requires both sides to adhere strictly to the rules of “coalition dharma”. At the very least, it requires that neither party undermines key postulates of the common minimum programme, and that they take care not to upset carefully contrived arrangements in place. At best, there could be some room for employing a scalpel — but used with a surgeon’s dexterity — rather than a sledgehammer used by a construction worker. Consultation and accommodation have to be the watchwords. All this is presently in short supply.


March 18, 2015 

As the Iraqi government’s campaign to liberate Tikrit wraps up, there will undoubtedly be questions about the next target of the campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Prior to the surprise battle for Tikrit, many observers focused on Mosul until a disastrous CENTCOM press conference sparked a backlash against the idea. Straddling the famous Tigris River, Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city and has, for millennia, linked the Levant and Persia. Its importance has not diminished over time – making its seizure by ISIL last summer especially painful. Already the economic engine of ISIL’s return from the almost dead, the city became its psychological capital when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the establishment of the caliphate from its most famous mosque. Correctly assessing this importance, and fed by its doctrinal attraction to the concept of a center of gravity, the American military has been drawn to the idea of a decisive battle for Mosul. The recapture of Mosul would be devastating to ISIL and its recruitment of foreign fighters. But identifying Mosul as the natural Schwerpunkt of a combined attack is one thing – taking and holding Mosul for the long-term is a much more difficult proposition. ISIL’s political and economic entrenchment in Ninewa province, the lack of motivated allies in the area, and a long logistical line of communication from Baghdad could make Mosul a bridge too far.

Mosul – an Islamic State stronghold since 2004

Bin Laden’s document haul holds many keys for India

March 18, 2015

It is a truth well established that Pakistan is a major thorn in Indo-US relations. Both sides try to live with it but sometimes it burrows deep and draws blood. This is one of those times.

It turns out the Obama Administration has been sitting on a treasure trove of intelligence information hauled from Osama bin Laden’s digs in Pakistan which it apparently didn’t fully exploit because it would have interfered with the narrative of “success” for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. The narrative: Osama was dead, al-Qaeda was a spent force, the anti-terrorism campaign was ending and America was winning. The truth was anything but.

The White House apparently blocked access to the rich haul of material to its own intelligence agencies after a quick “scrub” of the documents for actionable intelligence. Access was denied for almost a year until a bureaucratic battle allowed the Defence Intelligence Agency a “read-only” access. Then the White House released 17 handpicked documents for analysis which supported the story of success while the bulk of the information remained out of reach.

This beats House of Cards and Homeland hollow but then reality is stranger than fiction. These stunning disclosures were made in a recent piece on the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal—admittedly no friend of the administration. However, there is far too much credible reporting in the column to dismiss it as a right-wing hatchet job.

But there was, perhaps, another equally important reason behind the hands-off order by the White House. It is called Pakistan. If bin Laden’s many hard drives, thumb drives and DVDs were allowed to circulate among various US agencies, it would have been impossible to control the narrative on Pakistan. The ISI’s role in keeping bin Laden safe in his “humble abode” would become impossible to ignore in public. Leaks would have inevitably followed, causing ripples among allies and strategic partners alike.

India would have raged and the Obama Administration’s emphasis on the trade and business side of things, which helps to sometimes obscure the security differences, would dilute. Access to bin Laden’s library would have corroborated what Indian intelligence had been telling the American side —that the ISI was in regular touch with bin Laden.

The Uncertain Fight Ahead for Afghanistan

By Jack Detsch
March 18, 2015

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter seemed impressed by Afghan troops in a recent visit to Kabul. 

Over the weekend, the White House announced that it would scrap plans to cut the U.S. presence in Afghanistan this year, leaving about 9,800 troops in the country well into 2016.

While that news may not come as a surprise, it could be a boon to the Pentagon’s efforts to train and equip Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) for the fight ahead. When he visited Afghanistan last month, just days after taking office, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called training “the heart” of the U.S. mission in the country. President Obama has pledged to bring home the entirety of troops left in the country by the end of his term, with the exception of a contingent guarding the U.S. embassy. Even with a decelerated timeline in place, that leaves precious little time to get Afghan troops prepared.

Carter has pushed for the move, with the hopes of buying more time to train Afghan troops, particularly in light of offensives in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. He’s also left the door open for talks with the Taliban as a means to deal with the conflict, extending upon the legacy of his predecessor, Chuck Hagel.

So how successful has training been so far? Our own Franz-Stefan Gady was impressed by the professionalism of the Afghan National Security Forces when he was embedded with a unit in eastern Afghanistan two years ago. Indeed, the U.S. has already turned over more than 400 bases used in the NATO mission to the ANSF, but political leadership has lagged: President Obama urged his newly elected Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, to accelerate the formation of his coalition government, which has failed to impress the Afghan legislature. Obama will host Ghani at the White House on March 24, and will hope to see some progress by then.

They’d do well to hurry that process up. Violence continues to persist in Afghanistan: in 2014, the Red Crossreported that the number of wounded combatants transported from the battlefield rose by 37 percent over the previous year. There are serious questions about Afghanistan’s ability to take the fight to the Taliban and other militant groups – the ANSF will be without close fixed-wing air support as the summer fighting season heats up, and there are questions about whether the military will be able to absorb and maintain donations from the Pentagon, like C-130H transportation aircraft, which could prove too complex and costly for Kabul in the long-term.

The Small Islands Holding the Key to the Indian Ocean

By Darshana M. Baruah
February 24, 2015

Small islands dotting the Indian Ocean are emerging at the center stage of great power politics. 

The rise of China, changing power dynamics, territorial disputes in the East and South China Sea, and the U.S. rebalance to Asia have all led to the re-emergence of the Indian Ocean as the center stage for power politics in the Indo-Pacific.

Much has been written about China’s assertive behavior in the South and East China Seas and it remains a cause of concern for all key actors in the region. However, looking beyond these islands in Southeast Asia to the ones in the Indian Ocean, one realizes that Beijing has been working incessantly to secure its strategic interests and strengthen its role as a major player in the Indo-Pacific — alarming other regional powers such as India and the U.S.

The conflict in the South China Sea can be describe as a frozen situation with no dispute resolution in sight. While a number of mechanisms exist, none has been successful in solving the territorial claims. Apart from the occasional confrontation and verbal protests, Beijing seems to be in good control over the South China Sea. Having fairly secured its interests in the Western Pacific, China is now looking to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean.

While Beijing has the capabilities to venture out into the Indian Ocean, alarming a host of other nations in the region, it does not have the means to sustain its presence, especially in the event of a conflict. What China now seeks to do is court and improve relations with the small island nations in the India Ocean to facilitate its increasing presence in those waters. Beijing is thus using commercial initiatives to achieve its security and strategic aims in the region. In turn, New Delhi and Washington too are scrambling to strengthen relationships with their friends and allies and re-assert their influence over the small island nations. This essay looks at the geo-strategic competition unfolding between China, the U.S., India, and their friends in the Indian Ocean.

The Malacca Dilemma

Refugees: Inferno in the Bay of Bengal

By Keane Shum
March 18, 2015

The stories of the refugees who have crossed the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea are harrowing.

Not long ago, I found myself in two different rooms on opposite sides of a weekend and an ocean, but reflected as if by a mirror. Each had rows of chairs laid out, some for questioners, one for answerers, and between them, as narrow a space as could still demarcate authority. One room was the chapel of my father’s nursing home in Sydney; the other was under a kampungroof in Penang battered by a midmorning downpour. In one I was a questioner; in the other, an answerer.

On their face, the questions asked in each room were of separate worlds. In Penang, refugees from Myanmar – some of the tens of thousands who have fled by boat in recent years – asked me how their children could go to school, how they could keep jobs without paying bribes, how to find lost family members still or imminently en route. In Sydney, as the family members of the nursing home residents, we asked about lost laundry, and how frequently staff are required to change gloves, and if enough swivel room for a shower trolley would be preserved in planned renovations that would make each room en suite.

Even as the words came out of my mouth, I couldn’t help but think how absurd they would have sounded to the refugees in Penang, how strange it is that we all inhabit this same earth.

Even by UN standards, our Regional Maritime Movements Monitoring Unit at the Regional Office for South-East Asia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a cumbersome name, but a straightforward ambit: Find out as much as we can about the journeys that refugees make by sea in this part of the world.

The Unit is still in its early days, but already our work is prone to the deep gulf, so familiar in this line of work, between our personal experiences and those of the persons of concern to us. I wish I could draw from my own family’s many migrations between countries and continents over the last century, but the last time any of those migrations was by boat was almost 70 years ago, when my grandmother embarked from the southeast coast of China to marry my grandfather in Indonesia. And while those journeys were not always easy, some not entirely by choice, none would remotely compare to the recent passages we have been learning about, the scores who have been and continue attempting to cross the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea from Bangladesh and Myanmar to Thailand and Malaysia. According to our estimates, some 62,000 people attempted the journey in 2014.

Darkest Memories

China Reveals Its Cyberwar Secrets


In an extraordinary official document, Beijing admits it has special units to wage cyberwar—and a lot of them. Is anybody safe?

A high-level Chinese military organization has for the first time formally acknowledged that the country’s military and its intelligence community have specialized units for waging war on computer networks.

China’s hacking exploits, particularly those aimed at stealing trade secrets from U.S. companies, have been well known for years, and a source of constant tension between Washington and Beijing. But Chinese officials have routinely dismissed allegations that they spy on American corporations or have the ability to damage critical infrastructure, such as electrical power grids and gas pipelines, via cyber attacks.

Now it appears that China has dropped the charade. “This is the first time we’ve seen an explicit acknowledgement of the existence of China’s secretive cyber-warfare forces from the Chinese side,” says Joe McReynolds, who researches the country’s network warfare strategy, doctrine, and capabilities at the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis.

McReynolds told The Daily Beast the acknowledgement of China’s cyber operations is contained in the latest edition of an influential publication, The Science of Military Strategy, which is put out by the top research institute of the People’s Liberation Army and is closely read by Western analysts and the U.S. intelligence community. The document is produced “once in a generation,” McReynolds said, and is widely seen as one of the best windows into Chinese strategy. The Pentagon cited the previous edition (PDF), published in 1999, for its authoritative description of China’s “comprehensive view of warfare,” which includes operations in cyberspace.

China Dominates the Scramble for the South China Sea

March 19, 2015

Though Vietnam has occupied the greatest number of contested features in the Spratlys, China is clearly winning.

Far from revisiting its assertive posturing in adjacent waters, China is seemingly determined to consolidate its position in the South China Sea at the expense of its smaller neighbors. The latest satellite imagery, released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, indicate extensive Chinese construction activities in highly contested areas, particularly the Spratly Islands, which have been actively claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

Though Vietnam has occupied the greatest number of contested features in the Spratlys, China is the most capable, ambitious (and geographically distant) claimant in the area. Given the magnitude of the power asymmetry between Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbors, China has the wherewithal to unilaterally dictate the tempo and trajectory of maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Despite being a relative late-comer, China has rapidly augmented its position, artificially transforming highly strategic features such as the Fiery Cross Reef, which has been enlarged to eleven times its original size.

The reef is a formidable military garrison, with up to two hundred Chinese troops stationed there. It is expected to host its own airstrip in the near future, a crucial prelude to what could become a de facto Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea. This would complement China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea, paving the way for China to dominate the skies above the entire first chain of islands in the western Pacific.

Some analysts have argued that China has been simply fortifying its position in features it has taken control of since the latter decades of the 20th century. Therefore, according to these observers, there should be no cause for alarm, since Beijing is supposedly just fortifying rather than expanding its presence in the Spratly chain of islands.

Australian Gets 1 Year Prison Sentence for Recruiting Taiwanese Admiral to Spy for China

Philip Drling
March 18, 2015

Australian spy’s conviction upheld in Taiwan

Taiwan’s highest court has upheld the conviction and imprisonment of an elderly Australian man for espionage. 

Taiwan’s Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Shen Ping-kang, an Australian citizen and businessman, will have to serve a 12-month sentence for using free holidays in Australia to recruit the deputy commander of Taiwan’s navy to spy for Chinese military intelligence.

The court also upheld the conviction and sentencing of retired vice-admiral Ko Cheng-sheng who “violated the highest belief, that soldiers should be loyal to their country”.

Shen and Ko were arrested in March 2013 and convicted of espionage by Taiwan’s High Court in September last year.

According to prosecutors, Shen’s involvement in trade across the Taiwan Strait led him to develop close contacts with Communist Chinese officials including officers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Political Department and a front for Chinese military intelligence, the “Shanghai City No. 7 Office”.

Chinese intelligence used Shen to recruit Ko, a close friend who as a rear admiral in Taiwan’s navy had access to top-secret information including Taiwan’s plans for defence against any military action by China.

Shen arranged several all-expenses-paid trips to Australia for Ko and his family, who was also paid to travel to Beijing and other cities in China between 1998 and 2007.

China (Finally) Admits to Hacking

March 18, 2015

An updated military document for the first time admits that the Chinese government sponsors offensive cyber units. 

China’s military has finally pulled back the curtain on its cyber strategy, admitting for the first time that it (like countries around the world) has cyber units set up not only for defense, but for attack.

Officially, China’s line has always been that its government does not sponsor any form of hacking. Those denials rang hollow to foreign experts, however, who pointed both to evidence of Chinese cyberattacks and to the sheer folly of a country of China’s size and global importance not including cyberespionage in its intelligence-gathering arsenal.

Now Beijing may finally be ready to drop the charade. The updated edition of The Science of Military Strategy,an authoritative analysis of China’s military thinking, includes references to China’s cyber-warfare units. “This is the first time we’ve seen an explicit acknowledgement of the existence of China’s secretive cyber-warfare forces from the Chinese side,” Joe McReynolds of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis told The Daily Beast. “[T]hey’ve come out and said, ‘Yes, we do in fact have network attack forces, and we have teams on both the military and civilian-government sides.’”

The Science of Military Strategy, published in Chinese in 2001 (and translated into English in 2007) is a staple reference not only for Western scholars but for senior PLA strategists and decision makers, explains Andrew Erickson, an expert on Chinese military affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. The updated edition was published in Chinese in December 2013 but only recently became available to foreign analysts. China is well aware that the book is widely studied by foreign experts as well as Chinese military thinkers, meaning the reference to cyber-attack forces was likely a carefully considered decision.

McReynolds said China has dedicated cyber units operating in both the military and the civilian sphere. Within the PLA, China has “specialized military network warfare forces” for carrying out both offensive and defense cyber operations. China also has cyber specialists within civilian organizations, including the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security, “authorized by the military to carry out network warfare operations.”

China Reveals Its Cyberwar Secrets

In an extraordinary official document, Beijing admits it has special units to wage cyberwar—and a lot of them. Is anybody safe?

A high-level Chinese military organization has for the first time formally acknowledged that the country’s military and its intelligence community have specialized units for waging war on computer networks. 

China’s hacking exploits, particularly those aimed at stealing trade secrets from U.S. companies, have been well known for years, and a source of constant tension between Washington and Beijing. But Chinese officials have routinely dismissed allegations that they spy on American corporations or have the ability to damage critical infrastructure, such as electrical power grids and gas pipelines, via cyber attacks. 

Now it appears that China has dropped the charade. “This is the first time we’ve seen an explicit acknowledgement of the existence of China’s secretive cyber-warfare forces from the Chinese side,” says Joe McReynolds, who researches the country’s network warfare strategy, doctrine, and capabilities at the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis

McReynolds told The Daily Beast the acknowledgement of China’s cyber operations is contained in the latest edition of an influential publication, The Science of Military Strategy, which is put out by the top research institute of the People’s Liberation Army and is closely read by Western analysts and the U.S. intelligence community. The document is produced “once in a generation,” McReynolds said, and is widely seen as one of the best windows into Chinese strategy. The Pentagon cited the previous edition (PDF), published in 1999, for its authoritative description of China’s “comprehensive view of warfare,” which includes operations in cyberspace. 

“This study is a big deal when it’s released,” McReynolds said, and the current edition marks “the first time they’ve come out and said, ‘Yes, we do in fact have network attack forces, and we have teams on both the military and civilian-government sides,’” including inside China’s equivalents of the CIA and the FBI. 

The acknowledgment could have political and diplomatic implications for China’s relationship with the United States and other Western powers. 

China under Xi Jinping

MAR 13, 2015 
Alternative Futures for U.S.-China Relations 

A series of three addresses on American and Chinese values, perceptions, interests, and strategic intentions, and their impact on the possibility of developing a common narrative for U.S.-China relations for the future.

Can Killer Drones Destroy the Islamic State?

March 18, 2015

There are killer drones in Kuwait, in a perfect position to strike Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But it’s not clear the drone attacks will actually help very much.

January satellite imagery of Kuwait’s Ali Al Salem air base shows the distinctive shapes of American-made MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles. New clamshell shelters, Ku-band communications arrays and ground control stations are also visible in the imagery from satellite firm DigitalGlobe.

It’s a sign the multinational coalition fighting Islamic State is bolstering its drone force.

Way back in October 2011, the Pentagon relocated around around 20 Predator armed drones — organized into seven combat air patrols — to the same Kuwaiti base. The Reaper is the Predator’s bigger, deadlier brother.

Washington and its allies are sending in the missile- and bomb-armed robots to find and kill key Islamic State leaders.

The Reapers at Ali Al Salem probably belong to the British Royal Air Force. In October, the United Kingdom announced that it intended to redeploy its Reapers from Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan for operations in Iraq.

British media reported that the drones’ operators would remain at the Waddington RAF base in Lincolnshire, England. But the presence of Ku-band arrays and ground control stations in Kuwait could suggest that, in fact, the robot operators are in Kuwait.

Oil Prices Cripple Iraq's ISIS War

No more blood without oil....

Iraq had a miserable 2014. The Islamic State (IS) reentered the country in large numbers early in the year, routing the Iraqi security forces in June with its swift territorial conquests and gaining tacit support from a large segment of Iraq’s Sunnis in the process. But the Iraqi government is also confronting a fiscal crisis that threatens to compound its security morass. It wants help from Saudi Arabia and the other major Arab oil producers in the Gulf but is in for a big disappointment.

Nouri al-Maliki—who last summer was in the last few months of his premiership—was unable to pass a national budget through the Iraqi parliament. Disputes with the Kurds over oil revenue sharing reached its peak. And the Iraqi parliament itself resembled a freewheeling, but useless, debating society increasingly being ignored as an impediment by the prime minister’s office.

In fact, the only upshot for the Iraqi Government was the price of crude oil: by July 2014, the average price for a single barrel of Iraqi crude was slightly above $102.


March 18, 2015
Graeme Wood’s article “What does ISIS really want?” has become the most discussed foreign policy article of the year. Yet the piece’s power lies not in the title question, but in Wood’s blunt assessment of a paradox that leaves Western leaders flummoxed: How does one explain the traction of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while also denying its religious legitimacy, in order to combat anti-Muslim bigotry? Wood didn’t mince words in refuting this hesitancy:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic… the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

What follows is a fascinating piece of research, and a frustrating read. Despite addressing all the right aspects of ISIL’s ideological content to understand its power, Wood’s argument is guided by the wrong question: “How Islamic is ISIL?” For him, denial of ISIL’s Islamic nature is why we fail to understand it. The analytical pitfalls of quantifying “Islamic-ness” should be self-explanatory. Are some of Islam’s 1.6 billion practitioners less Muslim than others if they are less violent? How do we explain the religious devotion of politically “quietest” Salafism, compared to the British ISIL fighters who purchased Islam for Dummies pre-departure? This is not to say that religion is irrelevant in the analysis of ISIL. ISIL uses Islam as an existential anchor, so its actions have to be influenced by it in order to work. It also freely capitalizes on global Islamist sentiment. But to say the whole structure is uniquely, potently Islamic is not just a logical fallacy, but part of the very illusion that sustains loyalty to it. Actually, the features that Wood claims represent ISIL’s Islamic orthodoxy – its obsession with “purity” and the apocalyptic prophecy it stakes its claim on – have “been done,” and not just by Islamists. This is revealed by comparing ISIL with another notoriously violent army, led by another self-styled holy man.

The Real Strategic Goal in Iraq and Syria: How Do You Bring Lasting Stability?

MAR 16, 2015 

One of the ironies of a steadily more partisan Washington is that its politicians and policymakers continue to call for “strategy” without looking beyond the military dimension. One way to lose a war is to lose sight of the objective, and there seems to be an open contest between the administration and the Congress to see who can do the best job of ignoring the objective.

The key question in both Iraq and in Syria—and in what is far too often treated as a “war against ISIL”—is how do you bring any meaningful stability to either country? Military victories are at best a means to that end and can actually make things worse if they are not tied to a set of grand strategic goals.

It is important to seriously degrade the Islamic State—regardless of whether one wants to call it ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh. A violent extremist protostate not only threatens the region immediately around it, it threatens to destabilize the Islamic world and spill over into terrorist attacks outside. Even total defeat of the Islamic State, however, will scarcely end the threat of jihadist violence or put an end to the divisions inside Iraq and Syria that helped empower the Islamic State in the first place.

This is also a case where the overall strategic objective is to bring stability to both Iraq and Syria, but bringing stability to each state involves very different challenges.

The Strategic Challenge in Iraq

Any meaningful and lasting form of “victory” in Iraq means that it must emerge from the current conflict with some solution to the deep divisions between Arab and Kurd, and Sunni and Shiite. 

There must be a functioning level of government and security and the ability to move toward some workable path of development. A Shiite-led occupation of Sunni areas may be better than an Islamic State occupation, but it will not solve Iraq’s political, governance, security, and stability problems.

Driving the Islamic State out of the north, and exposing the tensions between Arab and Kurd, after the Kurds took advantage of the central government’s losses in the North to grab more territory around Kirkuk, and with a sharp rise in Sunni and Shiite tensions around a “liberated” Mosul, will create ethnic problems that may be as serious as the sectarian ones between Sunni and Shiite, as well as spill over into Kurdish areas in Turkey and Syria.

Using U.S. and allied airpower to create a situation where a divided, Shiite-led Iraq becomes steadily more dependent on Iran is equally dangerous. So is a situation where the Arab Sunni states around Iraq see even more reason to be hostile to Iran and the conflict in Iraq creates constant division between regional Sunni and Shiite. The same is true of any situation where Turkey sees Iraq’s Kurds as a threat or as an extension of its struggles against its own Kurds by other means—particularly because the past fighting has made it impossible for Turkey to separate the challenge it sees from Iraq’s Kurds from their ties to the Kurds in Syria.

Back to the Future: The U.S. Navy Confronts Great Power Challengers

March 19, 2015

The U.S. Navy's got 99 problems.... Can the new strategy grapple with them all?

Last Friday, the maritime services finally released the new edition of theCooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. The last Cooperative Strategy, released in 2007, earned some public attention, but the latest iteration has already produced a firestorm of commentary.

This likely has more to do with the changing nature of internet commentary than the document itself, but the proliferation of material has nevertheless led to an illuminating debate on how the strategy has changed, and how it may fail to meet the requirements of the United States military.

What’s a Cooperative Strategy?

The Cooperative Maritime Strategy was designed for a post-Cold War world, in which many of the basic maritime problems demanded collective, rather than unilateral, action. The idea found its genesis in the “1000 ship navy” concept, which envisioned an ever shifting coalition of naval partners for managing problems such as piracy, humanitarian crises, and the regulation of the international system of maritime trade. CS-21 (as the Cooperative Strategy was known) envisioned the United States playing a leading role in the defense of the global maritime commons, and consequently of the liberal international order. At the same time, CS-21 sought to depoliticize the maritime sphere, treating it as a positive sum space

Although CS-21 left some of the implications unstated, the cooperative approach had an edge. Through emphasizing relationships, the maritime services (and particular the USN) would gain an advantage over potential competitors by occupying a central role in most naval endeavors. Developing familiarity with the attitudes and capabilities of partners would give the USN a critical leg up in case of any actual political disputes. CS-21 wanted to make the point that while no one could have a pool party without inviting the USN, the involvement of the PLAN was strictly optional.

Is Taiwan out of Vogue in Washington DC?

March 19, 2015

Why don’t we hear much about Taiwan in Washington D.C. anymore? 

After delivering remarks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on February 27, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy R. Sherman was asked a rather simple question by one of the journalists present: Why don’t we hear much about Taiwan in Washington, D.C. nowadays?

John Zang, a journalist with CTiTV in Taiwan, had good reasons to ask. After all, in Sherman’s entire presentation, which focused on the situation in Northeast Asia, Taiwan was only mentioned once. And in that one passing reference, her formulation — “our friendship with the people of Taiwan” — deftly skirted the possibility of Taiwan existing as a nation or state, or the fact that U.S. relations with the “people of Taiwan” are rather more substantial than mere friendship.

“Taiwan is not talked about a lot these days in this town,” Zang noted.

Sherman, who visited the region earlier that month, returned from her trip with an awareness of the “chronic dangers” that exist in that part of the world. And yet, when asked to explain why Taiwan isn’t mentioned much in Washington, Sherman struck an overly optimistic note.

“I will say part of the reason that Taiwan is probably not talked about as much as it once was is a good sign,” she said. “It means that Taiwan is stable, is prosperous, has a strong relationship with mainland China, that the concept of ‘one China’ and the Three Communiqués has become a standard, that the economic integration between Taiwan and mainland China is quite so — it is the status quo, that the political issues are worked out over time.”

Perhaps the reason why it is so easy to punch holes in Sherman’s response to Zang is that senior U.S. officials invariably skip Taiwan whenever they visit the region, the result of misguided and self-defeating policies in Washington. Or maybe her understanding of the “chronic dangers” is simply too superficial. After all, while in Seoul, she did succeed in hurting the feelings of a segment of South Korean society, prompting the New Politics Alliance for Democracy to state that Sherman perhaps lacked a “proper understanding of northeast Asian history.”

Russia Deploys Bombers to Crimea

March 19, 2015

Russia is continuing to militarize its westernmost territories. 

The Russian military will deploy nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-95 and Tu-22M3 strategic bombers on the Crimean peninsula. Additionally, the Kremlin is setting up an Iskander missile deployment in Kaliningrad, the Russian territorial exclave on the Baltic Sea coast, for a military exercise. Russia’s state-run TASS news agency quoted a source close to the Russian Defense Ministry who noted, “Strategic missile carriers TU-22MS will be transferred to Crimea in the course of a surprise combat readiness inspection.”

In Kaliningrad, the Russian military will continue to build its Baltic Sea presence by relocating jets and bombers to the region. ”Ground troops in the Baltic region will be boosted by the Iskander missile systems of the western military region. They will be delivered by big assault landing ships of the Baltic Fleet,” TASS quoted its source as saying.

The report added that Russia was additionally carrying out a “surprise readiness inspection” of its Northern Fleet, western military region, and airborne assets on Monday. The inspection will cover “38,000 troops, 3,360 weapons units and military equipment, more than 55 warships and submarines and 110 aircraft and helicopters.”

Following a spate of anti-government protests in Ukraine, Russia moved to annex Crimea in February 2014. The Crimean peninsula has been of strategic significance to Russian leaders dating back to at least the Imperial era — the peninsula offers Russia access to the Black Sea, and subsequently, the Mediterranean by way of the Bosphorus. Additionally, the Russian Navy’s sole warm-water port is located in Sevastopol.

Kaliningrad is Russia’s portal to the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic. It additionally borders Poland and Lithuania, both NATO members with a deep skepticism of Russia’s strategic intentions in Eastern Europe. Russia’s Iskander missiles have a range of 500 km and are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz stated that the timing of Russia’s military deployments westward was no coincidence: ”Russia is making this gesture before the European Council meeting. It is trying to influence European Council decisions concerning extending or adding new sanctions.”

More on Russian Intelligence Operations in Sweden

March 18, 2015 

Sweden security forces fear Russian military operations 

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s security services said on Wednesday they feared possible Russian military operations against their country following an increase in espionage activity since the Ukraine crisis erupted a year ago. 

In their annual report, the security services identified Russian espionage as the biggest intelligence threat facing neutral Sweden, which along with the wider Baltic region has seen a sharp increase in Russian naval and airforce activity over the past year. 

"We see Russian intelligence operations in Sweden - we can’t interpret this in any other way - as preparation for military operations against Sweden," security police chief analyst Wilhelm Unge told a news conference. 

The report said Russian military espionage in Sweden included hacking, trying to get hold of secret equipment and trying to recruit agents. 

"Sweden is leading in several areas of military and also civil technology and this attracts Russia’s interest," he said. 

"And we have identified and stopped several cases of technology procurement during the year where we assessed that it was not a question, as the Russian partner claimed, of civilian usage but aimed at strengthening the Russian military." 

Unge said a third of Russian diplomats based in Sweden were believed to be intelligence officers. 

Relations between Russia and the West have become badly strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula last March and backed pro-Russian separatists battling Kiev’s forces in eastern Ukraine. 

Sweden is not in NATO but as a member of the European Union participates in economic sanctions imposed by the 28-nation bloc against Russia over its role in Ukraine. 


Last November Sweden said it had proof that a foreign submarine had been operating illegally in the Stockholm archipelago after suspicions sparked the country’s biggest military mobilisation since the Cold War. 

Russia Sending Missiles to Kaliningrad Enclave and Nuclear Bombers to Crimea

March 17, 2015

Russia to Send New Missiles to Baltic Enclave on Maneuvers

MOSCOW — Russia plans to station state-of-the art missiles in its westernmost Baltic exclave and deploy nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea as part of massive war games to showcase its resurgent military power amid bitter tensions with the West over Ukraine.

The Russian military exercises this week range from the Arctic to the Pacific Ocean and involve tens of thousands of troops, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

The Iskander missiles will be sent to the Kaliningrad region that borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania as part of the maneuvers, said a Defense Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment publicly.

The official also said Russia will deploy long-range, nuclear-capable Tu-22M3 bombers to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine a year ago.

In a statement, the Defense Ministry said the Baltic Fleet, the Southern Military District and the Airborne Forces have been brought to the highest stage of combat readiness and have started moving to shooting ranges as part of the drills.

The wide-ranging exercise started Monday, when President Vladimir Putin ordered the Northern Fleet and other military forces on combat alert as part of the exercise in the Arctic. Other units in the Pacific region, southern Siberia and southwestern Russia also launched drills.

The Iskander missiles deployment to Kaliningrad reflects Moscow’s readiness to raise the ante in response to NATO moves to deploy forces closer to Russia’s borders. The missiles, which are capable of hitting enemy targets up to 500 kilometers (310 miles away) with high precision, can be equipped with a nuclear or a conventional warhead. From Kaliningrad, they could reach several NATO member states.

Can Putin Survive?

MARCH 17, 2015 

Editor's Note: This week, we revisit a Geopolitical Weekly first published in July 2014 that explored whether Russian President Vladimir Putin could hold on to power despite his miscalculations in Ukraine, a topic that returned to prominence with his recent temporary absence from public view. While Putin has since reappeared, the issues highlighted by his disappearing act persist.

There is a general view that Vladimir Putin governs the Russian Federation as a dictator, that he has defeated and intimidated his opponents and that he has marshaled a powerful threat to surrounding countries. This is a reasonable view, but perhaps it should be re-evaluated in the context of recent events.
Ukraine and the Bid to Reverse Russia's Decline

Ukraine is, of course, the place to start. The country is vital to Russia as a buffer against the West and as a route for delivering energy to Europe, which is the foundation of the Russian economy. On Jan. 1, Ukraine's president was Viktor Yanukovich, generally regarded as favorably inclined to Russia. Given the complexity of Ukrainian society and politics, it would be unreasonable to say Ukraine under him was merely a Russian puppet. But it is fair to say that under Yanukovich and his supporters, fundamental Russian interests in Ukraine were secure.

This was extremely important to Putin. Part of the reason Putin had replaced Boris Yeltsin in 2000 was Yeltsin's performance during the Kosovo war. Russia was allied with the Serbs and had not wanted NATO to launch a war against Serbia. Russian wishes were disregarded. The Russian views simply didn't matter to the West. Still, when the air war failed to force Belgrade's capitulation, the Russians negotiated a settlement that allowed U.S. and other NATO troops to enter and administer Kosovo. As part of that settlement, Russian troops were promised a significant part in peacekeeping in Kosovo. But the Russians were never allowed to take up that role, and Yeltsin proved unable to respond to the insult.

Putin also replaced Yeltsin because of the disastrous state of the Russian economy. Though Russia had always been poor, there was a pervasive sense that it been a force to be reckoned with in international affairs. Under Yeltsin, however, Russia had become even poorer and was now held in contempt in international affairs. Putin had to deal with both issues. He took a long time before moving to recreate Russian power, though he said early on that the fall of the Soviet Union had been the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. This did not mean he wanted to resurrect the Soviet Union in its failed form, but rather that he wanted Russian power to be taken seriously again, and he wanted to protect and enhance Russian national interests.

4 Years Later, What Japan Can Teach the World About Disaster Preparedness

March 18, 2015

While hosting a UN Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, Japan shares hard lessons from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. 

Japan hosted the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction from March 14 to 18. The Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction is held by the United Nations about once every decade; more than 40,000 people were expected to take part, representing governments and NGOs from more than 170 countries.

Fittingly, the conference was held in Sendai, described by Japan Times as “a city that is synonymous with resilience to disasters for its remarkable recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.” That disaster struck four years ago on March 11, 2011, leaving more than 18,000 people dead or missing and triggering the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Tokyo used the opportunity to highlight the ways in which it has contributed to sharing expertise and knowledge with the rest of the world, especially developing countries, to pursue development goals and promote recovery from natural disasters. Japan’s “knowledge sharing” initiative is based on emphasizing the three principles: cost-effective prior investment, the idea of “building back better” (to create nations and regions more resilient than they were before the disaster), and cooperation between the central government, local governments, companies and other entities.

New U.N. guidelines to be adopted at the conference will not set concrete numerical targets for disaster prevention efforts, but will call for greater investment in preparedness to promote sustainable development. The guidelines agreed to at Sendai will also set the tone for other key processes this year, including the agreement on development financing in July, the set of Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted in September, and a new agreement on climate change in December.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declared in a special interview to the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Our drive for sustainability will start in Sendai.” He added:

Strategies to manage disasters are critical. The world has already shown great progress in saving lives by improving weather forecasting, setting up early warning systems and organizing evacuations. But the Sendai conference is expected to also deliver strategies for disaster risk management, which lies at the hart of strengthening the international response.

Russia, Crimea and Central Asia

March 19, 2015

Central Asian governments have faced some difficult choices in responding to Russian revanchism. 

A little over a year ago, little green men began popping up at strategic locations throughout the Crimean peninsula. While they kept mum as to their funding and support, their ends were clear: instill a pro-Russian parliament, force a referendum, and attempt to provide a veneer of legality to a Russian occupation.

Twelve months on, the reverberations from the Kremlin’s heist are still being felt. Sanctions have continued and expanded, compounding an oil sag to dampen economic prospects throughout Eurasia. Russia’s self-sanctions, preventing access to European goods for its populace, have helped illustrate how flaccid and ad-hoc the Eurasian Economic Union truly is. And where Central Asian governments were primarily concerned with potential Islamist spillover from ISAF’s Afghan pullout, Russian revanchism provided a sudden, immediate security threat, with far broader and deeper penetration through the region than anything ISIS could hope to ever achieve.

Crimea, as we now know, shifted the basic presumptions undergirding the post-Cold War order, broaching a Westphalian system that had stitched together the international community for decades. As we push into the second year of occupation, it’s worth taking stock of how Central Asian governments responded to the invasion – and how they’ve attempted to spin their views since.

None of the five Central Asian governments acknowledged the annexation during the United Nations vote last year, with all either abstaining or failing to lodge a vote. (Those siding with Russia read as a rogue’s gallery of the international community: North Korea, Syria, Belarus, etc.) Reports soon circulated that, unsurprisingly, Russia had applied substantial pressure on Central Asian contingents to forego any opposition they may have felt.

Beyond the UN vote, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the two countries furthest from Russia’s military and economic orbit, have remained largely mum on Crimea. Tajikistan, too, has opted to remain quiet – despitereports that Tajiks have been relocated to fight among Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. Kyrgyzstan, however, quickly acquiesced to the Russian position: Soon after Russian troops spread through the peninsula, Bishkekrecognized the “referendum” as valid.