4 May 2015

Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen

May 4, 2015 

Despite growing American reservations, Saudi Arabian hardliners seem determined to impose a military solution on the Yemen crisis. Instead, Riyadh is likely to find itself mired in Yemen for a long time in an unwinnable war.

The intense fighting that resulted in the virtual takeover of Yemen by the Shia Houthis earlier this year sent foreign nationals fleeing the chaos, resulting in the recent, splendidly executed, and deservedly, well-publicised rescue of more than 5,000 Indian and foreign nationals by the Indian government. It also sent shock waves through neighbouring Saudi Arabia which chose to react robustly though there was no attack on Saudi Arabia by Yemenis.

To properly understand the situation, one first needs to study Yemen, its politics and its turbulent history. The Shia Imams ruled Yemen for over 1,000 years till 1962, when the Imamate was overthrown by nationalist military officers led by Col. Abdullah Sallal. Both Col. Sallal and Republican Yemen’s second President, Abdul Rahman Yahya Al-Iryani, were Zaydi Shias; Ali Abdullah Saleh, President for 34 years, is also a Zaydi. In fact, Mr. Saleh waged a bitter military campaign against the Houthis from 2004 to 2010. The Muslim Brotherhood is quintessentially a Sunni entity, but in Yemen, its chairman and secretary general are Zaydis. Thus, all this shows that political contestations in Yemen have always been driven by personal ambitions and political ideology, and never by sectarianism.

8 security personnel killed in Nagaland militant ambush

May 3, 2015

This Google Maps image locates Nagaland’s Mon district where eight securitymen were killed in an ambush on Sunday.

Seven Assam Rifles personnel and a Territorial Army jawan lost their lives as they were fired upon by underground militants when they had gone to Changlansu in Mon district of Nagaland.

Eight security personnel were killed on Sunday in an ambush by underground militants in Mon district of Nagaland, defence sources said.

Seven Assam Rifles personnel and a Territorial Army jawan lost their lives as they were fired upon by underground militants when they had gone to Changlansu in Mon district with water tankers to fetch water, the sources said.

The Assam Rifles personnel also fired back and one underground militant was killed while some others were injured in the ensuing encounter, they added.

Across The Aisle: Even to the causing of death

May 3, 2015 

If there is one action that can bring about a dramatic change of outlook from J&K to Manipur, it is the repeal of AFSPA, and its replacement by a more humane law.

Some things do not have a place in a civilised country. One of them is The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, hereinafter AFSPA.

AFSPA is unique in many respects. I cannot recall any other law made by Parliament which applies only to the Seven Sisters of the North East — Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. In 1990, Parliament passed a similar law that would apply to Jammu & Kashmir.

It is a short Act: there is a section containing the definitions and three sections that constitute the essence of AFSPA. The contents of the three sections knock out every cherished principle of criminal jurisprudence.

Section 3 enables the governor of the state (one of the eight) or the Central government to declare the whole or part of the state as a “disturbed area”. Once it is so declared, armed forces can be used in such area “in aid of the civil power”.

“Armed Forces” means the Army, the Air Force, and the Central Armed Police Forces (CRPF, BSF, ITBP, CISF). No time limit has been prescribed for the continuance of the declaration: hence the Supreme Court stepped in and ruled in the case of People’s Movement of Human Rights that there should be a review of the declaration before the expiry of six months.

In its own interest - Strategic autonomy as an Indian foreign policy option

Kanwal Sibal

In the joint statement issued during the Indian prime minister's visit to France in April, the two sides reaffirmed "their independence and strategic autonomy" in joint efforts to tackle global challenges. In the French case, as a member of Nato, it is not so clear what strategic autonomy might mean, but in our case it would essentially mean independence in making strategic foreign policy decisions, and, consequently, rejecting any alliance relationship. It would imply the freedom to choose partnerships as suits our national interest and be able to forge productive relationships with countries that may be strategic adversaries among themselves.

In practical terms, this means that India can improve relations with the United States of America and China while maintaining close ties with Russia. It can forge stronger ties with Japan and still seek a more stable relationship with China. It can forge strong ties with Israel and maintain very productive ties with the Arab world, including backing the Palestinians in the United Nations. It means that India can have strategic partnerships with several countries, as is the case at present with the US, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iran and the like.

5 Battles That Changed Indian History Forever

May 3, 2015 

India’s history is characterized by a long list of battles as native and foreign powers sought to conquer and gain access to the wealth of the subcontinent. Here, I have decided to shed some light on the five battles that changed Indian history forever, focusing on more recent battles. They are as follows:

Panipat (1526)

The Battle of Panipat took place took place at a town northwest of Delhi in 1526 and lead to the establishment of the Mughal Empire. Panipat was directly on the invasion path to Delhi.

The founder of the Mughal Empire, Babur, is a remarkable figure because of the adventures of his youth, which he spent wandering around Central Asia, winning and losing kingdoms. He documented his life in a lifelongjournal, giving us rare insights into a ruler’s inner thoughts. Babur became ruler of Kabul in 1504. In 1526, much of north India was ruled by Ibrahim Lodi of the Delhi Sultanate. Many of Lodi’s nobles were dissatisfied with him and invited Babur to rule over them instead. Babur knew a deal when he saw one. Writing in his journal, he noted “the one nice aspect of Hindustan is that it is a large country with lots of gold and money.”

Days and nights in the forest: 23 days with the Maoists in Chhattisgarh

May 3, 2015 

Given rare access, Indian Express reporter Ashutosh Bhardwaj spent 23 days with the Maoists in Chhattisgharh, living in their camps, sharing their food, watching films on a laptop and debating Mao.

In February last year, Ashutosh Bhardwaj gained rare access into the forests of Abujhmaad, Chhattisgarh, a “liberated” Maoist zone run by a network denser than veins in the human body. He spent 23 days in the camps, observing the violence, idealism and deceit that are a part of the guerrilla life. An account of life inside an insurrection.

A rebel fetches water for her camp. Comprising around 40 per cent of the cadre, women form the spine of the insurgency. All responsibilities are shared equally by men and women; the latter get special food rights

The three of them clutched torches between their teeth, uncoiled the long wire, laid it through bushes, before fixing a Claymore mine and a detonator on opposite ends. On this mid-February night, they looked like three ghosts on the prowl. Their comrades washed dishes in a tiny stream nearby, spread tarpaulin sheets on the ground and sat around the fire. This forested patch, deep in Abujhmaad, Narayanpur district, Chhattisgarh, served as the night halt of this Maoist squad.

'Even the first step to clean the Ganga has not been taken'

April 30, 2015

'70 per cent of sewage is flowing untreated into the river along its entire course. Hardwar and Rishikesh remain two of our holiest cities. Why has the government failed to do anything?'

'If Modi can do with the Ganga what he has done with the Sabarmati, that will be a major achievement.'

BJP MP Hukum Singh, chairman of the parliamentary committee on water resources, tells Rashme Sehgal that nothing has been done to arrest pollution in the Ganga.

Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Hukum Singh heads the parliamentary standing committee on water resources. Singh and the 21-member committee came down heavily on the government for having done little to arrest rising pollution levels in the Ganga and other water bodies. The committee's report was tabled in Parliament on April 27.

Singh, below, left spoke to Rashme Sehgal for Rediff.com in an exclusive interview.

Your committee has come down heavily on the government for not taking adequate steps to clean up the Ganga.

The changing map of India from 1 AD to the 20th century

Battles were fought, territories were drawn and re-drawn. An amateur historian has caught these shifts in a series of maps.

India’s history is speckled with the ruins of empires. Kingdoms have periodically risen here, expanded and fallen, reshaping with them the region’s culture and identity.

Amateur historian Thomas Lessman, who has been researching world history for over 20 years, has created a series of maps of India showing these shifts from 1 AD till the rule of the Delhi Sultanate. On his website Lessman says he “became frustrated while researching history because it's hard to find great maps. The best maps are in books that cost more than I make in a week... So I realised if I want free World History Maps, I’d have to make them myself”.

The maps provide a vivid history tour. They start from the time the Sakas or Indo-Scythians firmly established their presence in India.

Map: From Canada to Grenada, nearly 40% of the world can now get online visas to India

April 30, 2015

Among other things, the fringe benefits of a state visit by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi may now include a speedy inclusion into India’s online visa programme.

So, weeks after Modi’s visits to France and Canada, citizens from the two countries, along with those from 29 others, can now apply for e-tourist visas. That takes the total number of countries in India’s e-visa programme up to 76, about 39% of all the countries in the world and a little over half of the targeted 150 countries that Modi wants to include into the scheme this year.

Basically, e-tourist visas allow travellers to go through the visa application process online—saving them the hassle of visiting the Indian embassy in their respective countries. So, a tourist needs to apply for a visa online at least three days in advance, pay the fee, and carry a print of the travel authorisation to get the necessary stamp at the immigration checkpoint to enter the country.

Here’s a map of all the countries that are now eligible for India’s e-tourist visa scheme.

Funding Afghanistan’s Army Is a Long Con That’s Cost America $60 Billion There’s no accountability, no oversight


Washington has invested a trillion dollars and more than 2,300 American lives in Afghanistan. It’s one of the most expensive projects in the history of the United States.

But rampant corruption, a lack of oversight and dwindling U.S. presence in Afghanistan are leading America and its cash down a dark path. One where Washington hands over billions of dollars to Kabul in hopes it will turn that money over to soldiers and police with no actual ability for Washington to track the cash.

On April 29, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, testified before a Congressional subcommittee on national security. He was there to tell legislators all about Afghanistan’s security forces, a mix of police and soldiers funded by the American taxpayer.

“Every dollar we spend now on training, advising, and assisting the Afghans,” Sopko said, “must be viewed as insurance coverage to protect our nearly trillion dollar investment in Afghanistan since 2001.”

That’s correct. The billions of dollars America has put into Afghanistan is a bet — one that only pays off if the country remains stable. The crux of that stability is the Afghan security forces.

Of that trillion, Washington has spent more than $60 billion to train, equip and pay Kabul’s security forces. That includes soldiers for the army, cops to patrol the streets and civilians to support both. It’s a way of hedging the bet.

Who Controls Nepal’s Helicopters?

MAY 2, 2015

At dawn on Monday, April 26, the sleek red and white fuselage of an AS350 B3 helicopter arrived at Base Camp on Mt. Everest. Approximately 42 hours before, a devastating, 7.8-magnitude earthquake had struck Nepal, and an avalanche had torn through the camp, injuring dozens of climbers, guides, and support staff. At least 20 people had been killed. The most severely injured patients had already been evacuated on Sunday, with heli pilots feeling their way down through fleeting holes that appeared amid scudding skies.

“Heavy clouds fill the valley below, but a tunnel beneath them allows the pilots to keep flying,” wrote Mike Hamill, an American Everest guide, in a dispatch for National Geographic. Such flying requires significant quantities of both bravery and skill.

The B3s returned on Monday to airlift more than 100 people down from Camp I and Camp II. The established mountaineer’s route between the two, through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, had been destroyed. Three Sherpas were subsequently reported killed attempting to rebuild it when an aftershock struck. To just about everyone on the scene, an evacuation by helicopter seemed to be the most prudent decision. “It wasn’t going to be an ideal scenario, by any means…” wrote an American guide, Dave Hahn, afterward on the Rainer Mountaineering Inc blog. “Being ‘rescued’ from 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) on Mount Everest….But we weren’t likely to get any better offers.”

China’s Secret Plan to Supplant the United States

By Elizabeth C. Economy
May 03, 2015

We are entering the season of presidential primary politics, and many of the candidates—or at least their advisors—might benefit from a fresh look at the current crop of foreign policy books. China should be at or near the top of every candidate’s bedside reading list. With that in mind, I have begun to make my way through the mounting pile of new books and reports on U.S.-China relations that has accumulated over the past few months and thought I might offer a few reflections on what is novel and most useful—or not—from each. For those of you who have already read one of books, I welcome your thoughts.

First up is Dr. Michael Pillsbury’s The Hundred-Year Marathon (Henry Holt and Co., 2015). Let me begin by noting that this is a highly engaging and thought-provoking read. It does what few books do well, and that is to mix scholarship, policy, and memoir-style writing in an accessible but still intellectually rich fashion. Pillsbury, senior fellow and director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute, presents a straightforward thesis. In its most bald form, he argues that China has a long-term marathon strategy to supplant the United States as the sole superpower by 2049. If successful, Pillsbury argues that China will reshape the world into one that will “nurture autocracies,” “rewrit[e] history to defam[e] the West and prais[e] China,” sell its own highly polluting development model to other countries, and constrain the political space for international organizations (195).

The Battle for Taiwan's Soul: The 2016 Presidential Election

In the past, the CCP hasn't played nicely with democratically elected DPP leaders. What happens if Tsai Ing-wen wins? 

Leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Kuomintang (KMT)will meet in Beijing on Monday to exchange opinions on “issues of mutual concern.” At the top of the list will be the KMT’s prospects for presidential and legislative elections scheduled for January 2016, and contingencies should the KMT lose.

Xi Jinping and Eric Chu’s summit is the first between respective party leaders since 2009. It comes a year on from the first face-to-face meeting of official representatives of the governments of the People’s Republic of China (PRC, hereafter China) and the Republic of China (ROC, hereafter Taiwan) for several decades.

That symbolic breakthrough was the last dose of positive news for the KMT and the Ma Ying-jeou administration. President Ma, who stepped down as KMT Chairman in December followingdevastating losses in local elections in November, has witnessed a wave of social protests, a student occupation of the legislature and the demise of an economic agreement with China that was intended to be the keystone policy of his second and final term.

A New Look for Tibetans, With an Assist From the Chinese State


They could have been images of any freshly married Chinese couple shelling out big money for the glamour shots of their dreams. The woman had cascading black hair, the man, a lanky self-confidence with a hipster hairdo to match. The two posed for dozens of photos in front of a helicopter, sipping Starbucks on a trendy avenue, and stepping into an expensive sports car outside a luxury store (as shown above). The bride and groom were Dawa Drolma and Gerong Phuntsok, two young ethnic Tibetans from China’s southwestern Sichuan province. Their bilingual Tibetan-Chinese online photo album – which also showed the two in traditional dress praying before a Tibetan temple, wandering among a herd of goats, and winding their way through a line of prayer flags — seemed remarkably adroit in managing the tensions between consumerism and urbanization, and traditional rural roots.

Perhaps it was that fact that caused the photos to spread like wildfire across the Chinese Internet in early April. As state news agency Xinhua reported on April 15, 80 percent of mobile messaging app WeChat users — meaning around 400 million users — viewed the photos. There’s no evidence those numbers aren’t true, but the story is more complicated than those gaudy statistics. That’s because Tibet is something of an information black hole. After decades of de facto independence, the region was incorporated into China as a semi-autonomous region in 1950. Since then, strict controls on Tibetan culture and religion have perpetuated a tumultuous relationship between Tibetans and government authorities, most of whom are Han, China’s majority ethnic group, and who routinely label dissidents “separatists.” Foreign media is restricted from traveling to the region, and domestic media coverage of Tibet is extremely selective; Tibetan protests, detentions, and beatings are primarily reported only by outside media organizations and pro-Tibet groups, whose websites are blocked in China.

Q. and A.: Francis Fukuyama on China’s Political Development

MAY 1, 2015

On Tiananmen Square in Beijing, during the 18th Communist Party Congress in November 2012, a large-screen projection video celebrated the party and China's recent strides.Credit Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times

Francis Fukuyama’s widely read essay “The End of History?” — published just before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 — posited that Western liberal democracy may turn out to be the endpoint of political development. So when Mr. Fukuyama laid out what he considered the weaknesses of the American political system in a new book last year, “Political Order and Political Decay,” the Chinese state news media immediately asserted that he had altered his views and now considered state capacity, like that of China during the last 35 years of rapid economic development under Communist Party rule, as more important for a country’s prosperity than democracy.

But Mr. Fukuyama, a political scientist at Stanford University, responded that this was a misreading. “My argument is that an effective political system has to balance state capacity against rule of law and democracy,” he said last November. “I think in the United States and certain other democratic countries, the emphasis has been so much on the constraint of state power that we end up not being able to make difficult decisions. But I think China is the opposite, and that’s not a good situation either.”

China’s Evolving Perspectives on Network Warfare: Lessons from the Science of Military Strategy

April 16, 2015
Publication: China Brief Volume: 15 Issue: 8

When tracking the development of China’s military capabilities, Western People’s Liberation Army (PLA) watchers encounter frequent challenges in determining which data sources they should draw upon for their analysis. Purely quantitative measurements of the PLA’s nominal force strength, though often valuable, may not provide insights into challenges the PLA faces in the real-world execution of its missions, while writings on Chinese military strategy by any given PLA author may not reflect the PLA’s broader institutional stance or limitations imposed by inadequate material capabilities.

If one analyzes China’s approach to network warfare in particular, these challenges are multiplied. [1] “Cyber weapons” are not publicly viewable and quantifiable in the same sense as submarines or aircraft, and often the PLA will not admit even their existence. And just as in U.S. discussions of “cyber war,” charlatans and self-promoters abound; although it is easy to find writings by PLA officers theorizing loosely and grandiosely about information warfare, they are often speaking only for themselves rather than for their respective military institutions.

Roughly once every 15 years or so, however, the PLA’s influential Academy of Military Sciences (AMS) issues a new edition of The Science of Military Strategy (SMS), a comprehensive, generally authoritative study of the PLA’s evolving strategic thought that escapes much (though not all) of the shortcomings of other PLA original sources. The AMS plays a much more central role in the formation of China’s military strategic thought than its academic counterparts in the United States, and the SMS is its flagship external product. It is the result of dozens of high-level PLA authors working together over a period of years to produce a heavily vetted consensus document.

Rolling Out the New Silk Road: Railroads Undergird Beijing’s Strategy

April 16, 2015 
Publication: China Brief Volume: 15 Issue: 8

The much-heralded arrival of the Yixinou train in Madrid last December, after traveling 8,000 miles from Yiwu, China, encapsulated the rapid expansion of China’s railway network across Eurasia and the key role that railroads are playing in Beijing’s New Silk Road strategy (Xinhua, December 9, 2014).

China’s domestic railway infrastructure development is now often cast in the light of facilitating China’s physical links with countries along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) and Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), also known as the “One Belt, One Road.” When three new railway lines—Lanzhou to Urumqi, Guiyang to Guangzhou and Nanning to Guangzhou—opened in late December, Xinhua said that “the completion of these railroads not only expands China’s railway track another 3,000 kilometers, but also facilitates the main blood vessels of the One Belt, One Road” (Xinhua, December 27). The Lanzhou to Urumqi line is “on the Eurasian bridge hinterland and goes through the core area of the Silk Road Economic Belt that the country is building,” and will support development of China’s western provinces, industrialization as well as connect Xinjiang with Central Asia and Europe.

Chinese Views on the Information “Center of Gravity”: Space, Cyber and Electronic Warfare

April 16, 2015
Publication: China Brief Volume: 15 Issue: 8

This paper seeks to examine the intersection of Chinese thought on cyber, space and electronic warfare, particularly in the context of command, control, computers, communication, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (C4ISR) complexes and their use in the current military paradigm. Space warfare is still in a fairly nascent phase of use, just as space is still in its early stages of development and use as a major resource for humanity. The use of military long-range communications systems and the proliferation of complex, layered networks separate from the Internet backbone have only complicated the strategic implications of disruption and denial.

The Internet “Embargo”

An Internet defined by geopolitical lines and “cyber borders” serves China’s interests, both domestically and internationally. Establishing geopolitical boundaries is increasingly being viewed by regimes such as China, Russia and Iran as a mitigating step to subvert many of the strengths from the U.S.-dominated global Internet infrastructure. Tightening border security between national intranets and the wider global infrastructure will be a huge factor in these countries’ defensive protection. Chinese domestic policy regarding Internet businesses and censorship has fostered a de facto protectionist e-commerce: Chinese companies are, by law, required to serve at the behest of government sensors and monitoring apparatuses. Western companies have been banned or, unwilling to comply, have been unable to gain a foothold in the market. This has created an almost entirely separate internal cyber environment, within China spurred on by the participation of nearly 650 million Internet users. Chinese e-commerce has developed to the point where it does not fundamentally need foreign participation, and maintains a healthy business environment in a nearly isolated and independent setting. The Internet in China could be called an almost entirely separate commercial ecosystem: an Internet autarchy.

Chinese Military Think Tanks: “Chinese Characteristics” and the “Revolving Door”

April 16, 2015
Publication: China Brief Volume: 15 Issue: 8

Following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent call on October 27, 2014 to build think tanks with “Chinese characteristics,” growing attention has focused on the impact his remarks have had on think tanks in China dealing with foreign policy and economics (seeChina Brief, December 19, 2014; Guangming Daily, December, 25, 2014). The Chinese media has covered the domestic debate over this new approach to think tanks, with Chinese academics and policy analysts discussing the future trends and likely development path of think tanks, whereas, the foreign media has attempted to better understand the policy implications. Yet, few analyses have directly addressed how President Xi’s proposal will impact other think tank sectors, most notably China’s military think tanks. The announced reforms will likely stifle what was an increasingly free environment within PLA academic circles, at least at the public level, limiting the utility for Western officials and academics of interacting with these Chinese think tanks.

A Survey of Chinese Military Think Tanks

Focusing on the wider defense and security sector, there is a diverse array of think tanks that support the Chinese government and military’s thinking and strategy on critical issues. Among the most prominent are: the Academy of Military Sciences (AMS), the Chinese Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS), the Center for Peace and Development Studies (CPDS), the Foundation for International Strategic Studies (FISS), the Institute for National Security Studies–National Defense University (INSS/NDU) and the China Defense Science Technology Information Center (CDSTIC). These think tanks usually interact with top leaders through closed meetings and internal reports. Moreover, through their close proximity to the PLA’s core leadership, informal conversations with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials and cadres are also common.

PLA Navy Used for First Time in Naval Evacuation from Yemen Conflict

April 3, 2015
Publication: China Brief Volume: 15 Issue: 7

On March 29, the Linyi, a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) missile frigate, evacuated the first 122 Chinese citizens and two foreign experts from Aden, Yemen to Djibouti as the situation in Yemen deteriorated—marking the first time PLAN ships were used to rescue citizens abroad (People’s Daily Online, March 30; Xinhua, March 30). The next day, the Linyi’s sister ship, the Weifang, also rescued another 449 Chinese citizens from Al-Hodayda (Xinhua, March 30). Speaking at the Boao Forum in Hainan on March 29, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “there are 590 Chinese nationals in Yemen and the Chinese government launched the evacuation plan Thursday evening [March 26], when Saudi Arabia and its allies launched airstrikes in Yemen. The evacuation will help ensure Chinese nationals come back to China safely” (China Daily, March 29).

The crisis in Yemen escalated this January when Houthi rebels took control of the capital, Sana’a, forcing the president to leave the capital in February, and by early March they had taken large parts of the country. In response to the president fleeing to Saudi Arabia via Oman on March 26, Saudi Arabia was able to build a 10 country coalition, with a reported 150,000 troops, seemingly overnight to begin an air campaign against the rebels. Describing the scene in the capital, Xinhua said residents had fled and businesses were closed (Xinhua, March 29). The instability in Yemen represents a challenge to what was a deepening relationship between Beijing and Sana’a, after Defense Minister Muhammad Nasir Ahmad and President Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi visited Beijing in September and November 2013, respectively, to “[seek] cooperative relations” (Xinhua, September 23, 2013; CTTV, November 13, 2013; China Brief, July 7, 2006). However, the Chinese government had already begun pulling back on some projects in the country in January (Yemen Post, January 1).

The Generals’ Growing Clout in Diplomacy

By: Willy Lam
April 3, 2015
Publication: China Brief Volume: 15 Issue: 7

A recent foreign policy debate in the Chinese media has thrown into sharp relief the extent of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generals’ influence on the country’s diplomacy. Wang Zhanyang, a liberal academic at the Central Institute of Socialism, caused a stir when he argued in a late 2014 article in Global Times that “it is impossible for Japan to go down the old road of militarism.” Professor Wang argued that “both the ‘Japan threat’ theory and the ‘China threat’ theory do not tally with reality.” He added that believers in Japan’s re-militarization, including the country’s hawkish military officers, had “strayed into the realm of methodological fallacy” (Global Times, October 9, 2014). Lieutenant-General Wang Hongguang harshly disputed Professor Wang’s point in a Global Times article last November. General Wang, a retired deputy-commander of the strategic Nanjing Military Region, cited efforts by the Shinzo Abe administration to reinterpret the Japanese Constitution and to develop state-of-the-art weapons as demonstrating that “Japan’s 1,000-year-old ambition of conquering China remains unchanged.” General Wang hinted that a new war with Japan was a distinct possibility (Global Times, November 14, 2014).

Supporters of the professor and the general have clashed vociferously in China’s social media. Senior Colonel Xu Sen seemed to back the PLA’s heightened involvement in foreign policy when he argued that “soldiers have every right to make public statements about issues of national defense and national security.” Xu, a veteran researcher at the National Defense University, denied accusations that the generals were “stoking the flames of nationalistic feelings.” “If soldiers don’t talk about war, what else should they talk about?” he asked rhetorically in a commentary in the Global Times (Global Times, August 28, 2014; Chinaiiss.com [Beijing], August 28, 2014). Xu’s remarks provoked the bigger question of whether, apart from raising eyebrows, the generals’ increasingly frequent comments on diplomatic and national-security issues mean that President and Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping, China’s No. 1 foreign-policy formulator, is giving them a bigger say in this key arena.

What’s in a Story?: Chinese Narratives on Territorial Conflict in the Pacific

Publication: China Brief Volume: 15 Issue: 7
April 3, 2015

Last week, China finished hosting the 2015 Boao Forum and also participated with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members in the 13th round of talks on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Both were promoted in the Chinese press as symbols of China’s commitment to the region and to an emerging pan-Asian economic and security order, embracing peace while also according China appropriate weight as a “great power” (Xinhua, March 27, March 28). This year’s Boao theme, “Toward a Community of Common Destiny,” seems to perfectly capture Beijing’s vision for a 21st-century Asia closely entwined with China’s economic and political leadership (Tung Fang Jih Pao, March 29).

Yet China’s ongoing territorial conflicts in the East and South China Seas sound a discordant note in this otherwise harmonious symphony. Many in the United States see China’s engagements as part of a carefully-calibrated campaign of military and diplomatic maneuvering, an “incremental assertiveness” meant to divide the United States’ attention and acclimate neighbors toward accepting China’s rising power (The Diplomat, January 8). Yet in China, the dominant narrative insists that any conflict with regional neighbors is rooted in the United States’ interference—and particularly the “Rebalance to Asia,” which encourages confrontation rather than negotiation and suggests a covert intention to thwart China’s rise (China Daily, April 1).

Mullahs against the mouse Iran, unhindered, proceeds with its scheme to dominate the Middle East

The cat and mouse game playing out in the waters of the Middle East has profound consequences, not only for the United States, but for the rest of the world. It’s part of the clash of civilizations, whether the West likes it or not — the mullahs in Tehran against the Katzenjammer Kids in the White House. It’s not yet clear who’s the cat, and who’s the mouse, but the mullahs think they know.

The mullahs are pushing hard to consolidate a growing control over the region by seizing the initiative, nautical mile by nautical mile, from the U.S. Navy, which succeeded the British Royal Navy as the monarch of the seas after World War II. A few days ago two Iranian merchant ships, carrying arms to their Houthi tribal friends in Yemen, were observed sailing in these troubled waters. The Pentagon immediately dispatched an aircraft carrier, presumably assigned to intercept them. Someone, almost certainly someone at the White House, tipped the news that despite United Nations sanctions against the Yemeni rebels, the Americans would not board the ships to halt the arms cargoes.

Apparently as confused as the rest of us about what American policy might be, the little Iranian flotilla turned tail and headed home. The sight of an American carrier is impressive.

Iran and Saudi Arabia Are on a Collision Course

May 1, 2015

To prevent recent airline and shipping incidents from escalating into a wider military confrontation with Iran, all sides will need to exercise great caution in the Persian Gulf and the skies over Yemen.

On April 28, Saudi-led coalition aircraft bombed runways at Yemen's al-Rahaba Airport to prevent an Iranian Airbus A310 plane from landing there. The Sana airport is currently controlled by Houthi/Zaidi forces with close ties to Shiite Iran, and the plane belonged to Mahan Air, a company affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. At the controls was a famously reckless ex-IRGC cargo pilot who had stubbornly ignored orders from Saudi F-15 crews to change course, spurring the runway strikes that rendered the airport inoperable and eventually forced him to turn back.

Iranian officials, especially within the IRGC, are frustrated by the coalition's actions against Houthi/Zaidi militias and by their own inability to provide military assistance to them. Only days before the airport incident, IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari had called for a more aggressive stance against coalition operations in Yemen, while Hassan Firouzabadi, the chairman of the General Armed Forces Staff, called for "heavy-handed punishment" of the Saudis. Just last week, a convoy of cargo ships from Iran had attempted to run the Saudi blockade and deliver supplies and possibly arms to Yemeni ports under Zaidi control. The convoy was reportedly escorted by two of the IRGC Navy's Tondar-class missile boats (armed with Ghader anti-ship missiles, whose range is up to 200 miles), but it was called back after the U.S. Navy sent the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and the guided missile cruiser USS Normandy from the Persian Gulf. The standoff was brief and politically courteous, but it also carried a clear message for Iran.

The Faltering Russian Economy Makes a Renewed Ukraine Offensive More Likely

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 73

“Boring” is perhaps the prevalent impression of President Vladimir Putin’s televised four-hour-long Q & A session that aired last Thursday (April 16), which was meant to demonstrate his good health and relaxed attitude to the great many problems worrying his loyal subjects. The three key points he stressed were that everything is under control, the economy is set to improve from the low point of the crisis, and there will be no war (Slon.ru, April 17). His command of facts and figures was far from convincing to support the first point, and the everyday reality of falling incomes disproves the second one; thus, the commitment to peace inevitably looks dubious. Triumphalism over the “spectacular” annexation of Crimea was gone, overtaken by a return to “mundane” issues such as degenerating health care and the credit crunch to small businesses, which have fueled domestic discontent. And under the Putinist system, such discontent can only be neutralized by a new patriotic mobilization (Moscow Echo, April 17).

The Russian president has not found any inspirational idea for such a mobilization and even implicitly distanced himself from the rabid conservatism targeting “corrupt” Western values, which is fanned by the official propaganda (Novaya Gazeta, April 16). Reportedly, more than 3,000,000 questions and pleas were recorded for last week’s carefully staged performance. Putin attempted to highlight a few “human stories” but clearly preferred to push the pesky details to subordinates (Gazeta.ru, April 16). Russia’s governors and ministers, however, excel in explaining such problems away. Thus, Nikolai Rogozhkin, the presidential envoy to Siberia, suggested that the devastating forest fires raging in Khakassiya were caused by arson executed by specially trained oppositionists (Newsru.com, April 17). Sabotage is indeed a perfect cover-up for man-made disasters caused by rampant embezzlement. And it is typical in this respect that one issue that has disappeared completely from Putin’s discourse is the fight against corruption (Navalny.com, April 17).

NSA Is Not Resisting Proposed New Restrictions on Its Eavesdropping Activities

Peter Baker and David E. Sanger
May 2, 2015

WASHINGTON — For years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, even as theNational Security Agency fiercely defended its secret efforts to sweep up domestic telephone data, there were doubters inside the agency who considered the program wildly expensive with few successes to show for it.

So as Congress moves to take the government out of the business of indiscriminate bulk collection of domestic calling data, the agency is hardly resisting. Former intelligence officials, in fact, said Friday that the idea to store the data with telecommunications companies rather than the government was suggested to President Obama in 2013 by Gen. Keith B. Alexander, then the N.S.A. director, who saw the change as a way for the president to respond to criticism without losing programs the N.S.A. deemed more vital.

The limits on bulk collection are the centerpiece of legislation now advancing in the House that would be the first significant response to the spying revelations by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor. In addition to new restrictions on domestic data sweeps, the plan would require more transparency and introduce ostensibly independent voices into secret intelligence court proceedings.

But as one recently departed senior intelligence official put it on Friday, “This is hardly major change.”

The legislation would still leave an expansive surveillance apparatus capable of tracking vast quantities of data. Some of the most sweeping programs disclosed by Mr. Snowden, particularly those focused on international communications, would remain unaffected. The N.S.A. could continue efforts to break private encryption systems, and information about Americans could still be swept up if originating overseas.

Moscow Likely to Choose Control of Territories Over Their Economic Development

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 80
April 29, 2015

The Russian government is considering building a new water link connecting the Caspian Sea to the ocean via the Azov and Black seas. The new route is supposed to be the shortest and the cheapest way to carry Chinese goods via Central Asia to Europe. Existing oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea to outside markets also have hit the limits of their capacities, and finding new ways for exporting oil and gas is another important aspect of the project. Central Asian countries are regarded as the primary beneficiaries of the new transportation link, with Kazakhstan reportedly being its most ardent supporter. It is believed the new link will also boost the stagnant economies of the North Caucasus, creating new jobs and providing better access to world markets and investment. The Eurasian Development Bank has allotted $2.7 million for early project assessment, and the results of the research was discussed in the Russian Ministry of Transportation, but that discussion was closed to the public (Kavkazskaya Politika, April 17).

The proposed water link, commonly referred to as the “Eurasia canal,” would significantly affect the economic and political situation in the North Caucasus and southern Russia more generally (see EDM, June 25, 2007). Southern Russia has significant agricultural potential and would certainly be of interest to Chinese investors. Access by Chinese investors to the North Caucasus would also substantially improve local economies and decrease their dependence on subsidies from Moscow. As a rule, the Russian government prefers control to development. Unless the government is reassured that there is no threat to its control over the North Caucasus, it is unlikely to proceed with even the most lucrative developmental projects.

Will Turkey Choose the European or Eurasian Energy Union?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 72

The sixth meeting of the World Forum on Energy Regulation is scheduled to be held on May 25–28, in Istanbul, and is being organized by the office of the prime minister of the Turkish Republic. The competitive and dynamically expanding nature of the energy sector in Eurasia has been boosting Turkey’s regional importance as it prepares to take on the role of a strategically important transit and energy hub country (Hurriyet Daily News, January 28).

December 2014 saw the reemergence of competition between rival pipeline projects in Eurasia—similar to the earlier competition between the Nabucco natural gas pipeline, proposed by a consortium of European companies, and Russia’s South Stream. Currently, Russia’s new proposed pipeline project—Turkish Stream—is challenging the Azerbaijani-initiated Southern Gas Corridor, which will carry Caspian-basin gas to Europe via the South Caucasus, Turkey and then across Southeastern Europe. Turkey is already signed on to the Southern Gas Corridor—the Corridor’s longest pipeline segment, the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), will cross Turkey from east to west—but it is also being strongly courted by Moscow to host Turkish Stream (see EDM, December 17, 2014; February 20, 2015). This growing significance of Turkey in competing large-scale energy transit projects across Europe and Eurasia has also opened up a discussion domestically regarding which prospective energy union the country should become part of—European or Eurasian.

Russia’s Hybrid War Against Poland

By: Matthew Czekaj

In early April 2015, the Polish Internal Security Agency’s Governmental Computer Security Incident Response Team (also known as CERT—Computer Emergency Response Team), released its annual report on cyber security in Poland (Cert.gov.pl, April 3). According to the report’s findings, Poland came under a record number of hacker and cyber attacks in 2014—7,498 specific cyber attack “incidents” last year, compared to 5,670 confirmed incidents in 2013, 457 in 2012, and 249 attacks verified by CERT in 2011 (Cert.gov.pl, accessed April 28). In addition to a marked escalation in cases, the threat and level of sophistication of the registered cyber attacks also increased compared to previous years, in many cases pointing to state backing. The report highlights a series of high-profile hacking and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against key Polish state and financial websites in mid-August 2014, including the homepage of Poland’s president and the Warsaw stock exchange. Those incidents were promptly claimed by an online group calling itself “Cyber Berkut,” which stated it was acting in retaliation against the Polish government’s support of the post-EuroMaidan Ukrainian authorities.

However, what is novel about the 2014 issue of the CERT report, compared to all previous years, is the fact that, for the first time, it discusses an emerging “new trend” of “information war” directed against Poland via the Internet. As CERT notes, examples of such efforts include the dissemination of foreign “propaganda-disinformation” by bloggers and contributors to online discussion forums or website comments sections. Many such individuals, the report states, are on the payroll of a foreign state; while others may simply be naïve, misinformed or ideologically driven “useful idiots [sic]” whose viewpoints or standing can be exploited. Though the report does not specifically single out the Russian government as being behind this effort, CERT does highlight the veritable “deluge” of pro-Russia “trolling” commentary on the Polish Internet and blogosphere immediately following the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea (Cert.gov.pl, April 3). The Polish news outlet Niezalezna quickly pointed to these findings as examples of Russian hybrid warfare being waged against Poland (Niezalezna.pl, April 14).

Why, and how, Britain might leave the European Union

Apr 29th 2015

GREECE has long seemed a decent bet to crash out of the euro zone, and perhaps also the European Union. But during the current election campaign in Britain, Britain's exit (or a "Brexit") from the EU has also started to seem a real possibility. David Cameron, the prime minister, has promised an in/out referendum vote on Britain’s EU membership by the end of 2017 if the Conservatives remain in power on May 7th. Several other smaller parties, notably the UK Independence Party (UKIP), are campaigning specifically to leave the EU. Moreover, polls show that any referendum would be an extremely tight one. Why might Britain be leaving the EU, and how would it happen?

Even at the best of times Britain has always been a semi-detached member of the EU. The first post-war Labour governments turned down the opportunity to participate in the negotiations that led to the birth of the forerunner of the EU in the early 1950s. Since then Britain has often been more sceptical of the European project than committed to it; the country has been called “the awkward partner”. Britain eventually joined what was then called the European Communities under a Tory government in 1973, as Europe seemed to be doing so well economically. But the next Labour government quickly held a referendum on membership in 1975. The majority, on that occasion, voted to stay in, but over the past few decades British governments have kept their distance as others within Europe pursued "ever closer union". Britain did not join the single currency, and it is not a member of the Schengen passport-free travel zone. Traditional hostility to the EU has increased in recent years with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of east Europeans (quite legally, under EU rules) to find work, which has caused parties such as UKIP to assert that they are hogging an unfair proportion of the housing, school-places and health services that should go to Britons. 

On Trade: Obama Right, Critics Wrong

APRIL 29, 2015 

BERLIN — I strongly support President Obama’s efforts to conclude big, new trade-opening agreements with our Pacific allies, including Japan and Singapore, and with the whole European Union. But I don’t support them just for economic reasons.

While I’m certain they would benefit America as a whole economically, I’ll leave it to the president to explain why (and how any workers who are harmed can be cushioned). I want to focus on what is not being discussed enough: how these trade agreements with two of the biggest centers of democratic capitalism in the world can enhance our national security as much as our economic security.

Because these deals are not just about who sets the rules. They’re about whether we’ll have a rule-based world at all. We’re at a very plastic moment in global affairs — much like after World War II. China is trying to unilaterally rewrite the rules. Russia is trying to unilaterally break the rules and parts of both the Arab world and Africa have lost all their rules and are disintegrating into states of nature. The globe is increasingly dividing between the World of Order and the World of Disorder.

When you look at it from Europe — I’ve been in Germany and Britain the past week — you see a situation developing to the south of here that is terrifying. It is not only a refugee crisis. It’s a civilizational meltdown: Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq — the core of the Arab world — have all collapsed into tribal and sectarian civil wars, amplified by water crises and other environmental stresses.