26 March 2016

*** Key Trends in the Uncertain Metrics of Terrorism

MAR 24, 2016
It is now some 15 years since 9/11, the United States has not only conducted a constant campaign against terrorism since that time, but has been at war with violent Islamist extremists in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and then Syria. It has gone from counterterrorism to a mix of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency in these three states where no meaningful boundaries exist between them while the United States is increasingly a partner in counterterrorism efforts with nations in Europe, Africa, and Asia and throughout much of the Islamic world.
Virtually all of the data available indicate that these threats to the United States and its allies remain critical and that the geographic scope and intensity of terrorism continues to increase. At the same time, there are critical problems and shortfalls in the data available, a near total lack of credible unclassified data on the cost and effectiveness of various counterterrorism efforts, and critical problems in the ways the United States approaches terrorism.
The Burke Chair at CSIS has updated a graphic survey of reporting from different officials, media, and research centers on the recent trends in terrorism and key related factors. This survey is available on the CSIS website, and is entitledComparing Estimates of the Key Trends in the Uncertain Metrics of Terrorism. It is available on the CSIS web site athttp://csis.org/files/publication/160208_key_trends_metrics_terrorism_cordesman.pdf

It should be stressed, however, that the limitations in the data available and in current unclassified methods of analysis and reporting discussed in this survey still reveal serious problems in the ways in which given sources present given trends, and in the data on which these portrayals are based. They need to be carefully compared to understand key differences in estimates and analyses, and many data are presented without any clear assessment of uncertainty and source and are suspect in many ways.
These issues have been examined previously in a Burke Chair study entitled, The Critical Lack of Credibility in State Department Reporting on the Trends in Global Terrorism: 1982-2014, http://csis.org/publication/critical-lack-credibility-state-department-r... . This study only covered a small part of the issues in the current survey, however, and focused only on the critical problems in the unclassified data, and the resulting trend analyses produced by using the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and START databases.

The trends, methods of analysis, and focus on given issues and problems highlighted in this survey reveal a much wider range of problems in the data, and indicate that there may well be even more critical problems in the ways the U.S. government, other governments, and NGOs approach terrorism and counterterrorism:
The definition of “terrorism” used is often not stated, politicized, and/or confuses “terrorism” with insurgency, internal conflicts, and low intensity conflict.
The NCTC no longer reports numbers or patterns on an unclassified basis. There now are no official U.S. government reports presenting unclassified data reporting on the global trends in terrorism.
The FBI no longer issues updated charts and tables on terrorism in the United States on its website. Its website refers the user to the NCTC’s website and its Counter Terrorism Guide, which no longer has any meaningful data.
The Director of National Intelligence’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” discuses terrorism in broad trends, but provides virtually no quantitative data.
RAND has stopped providing public access to its database on terrorism.
The START Global Terrorism Database (GTD) database—which is used by the State Department in presenting a statistical annex to its annual country reports on terrorism—comes as close to an official source as any available. It must rely on media reporting of widely differing quality and historical continuity for its estimates, however, and does not distinguish clearly between terrorism and insurgency, or violence emerging from internal conflicts driven by factors like sect, ethnicity, tribe, and region.
START makes the unofficial character of its data clear in its literature:

*** The Link Between Syria and Ukraine

March 24, 2016 
By George Friedman 
The fact that the two conflicts have become intertwined is not a coincidence. 
Summary John Kerry is in Moscow for talks on Syria and Ukraine, as leaders explore a settlement in both countries. The Syrian and Ukrainian crises are more closely linked than they appear, it would seem.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Moscow on Wednesday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The meeting was arranged after a phone conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. This followed the Russian decision to withdraw most of its force in Syria. At the time, it was reported that the Obama-Putin conversation concerned Syria and Ukraine. 
In my mind, Syria and Ukraine have been linked from the beginning. The actions of nations can never be reduced to a single thread, but there are facts and logic pointing in this direction. The Russians embarrassed the United States in Syria. The United States had spoken of a red line in Syria that involved the use of chemical weapons. The Bashar al-Assad regime was accused of using chemical weapons. Subsequently, the French and the British urged the United States to conduct airstrikes against chemical stockpiles. The United States was considering a joint attack, which the Russians vigorously opposed. When the British Parliament surprisingly voted against authorizing air action, the United States reconsidered an attack, and there was none.

Moscow used this to make it appear that the United States had been blocked from attacking Syria by the Russians. Putin wrote an editorial to that effect in the New York Times. Part of this was a matter of ego, but there were more serious considerations as well. The United States was appropriately concerned that a perception of U.S. weakness and Russian strength could affect dynamics from Central Europe to Iran. Putin was taking victory laps, even though there was no Russian victory, trying to generate this perception. The U.S. had to block him.
In my view, this affected U.S. behavior in Ukraine. There had been a long-standing commitment by the U.S. to support and even fund dissidents in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union so the U.S.’s support of Ukrainian rebels was not a new policy. But the United States also understood the importance of Ukraine to Russia. It understood that Putin was attempting to reposition Russia as a great power and was using the Middle East as a very public pressure point against the U.S. Pursuing an existing policy vigorously could hand the Russians a very public defeat, negating Syria’s effect. 
The U.S. chose to pursue its policy more vigorously than before. The Russians bungled their strategy in Crimea, which ranged from not understanding the forces arrayed against the pro-Russian regime to an inability to create a strategy for protecting the regime. Their attempt at triggering an uprising in the east failed, and their “seizure” of Crimea was a formality, given their overwhelming strength there. While the Russians were reeling, the United States mounted a campaign sketching the Russians as aggressors and brushing aside the notion that Russia had fundamental interests in Ukraine. All this would likely have happened anyway, but it did not happen without an awareness of Russian behavior in Syria. The awareness contributed to decisions made by the U.S. in Ukraine.

Developments in Ukraine – plus the collapse of oil prices – reversed positions. Russia appeared weaker and had to establish its credibility. It deployed about 70 aircraft and support personnel to Syria. The decision was made in the context of a genuine Russian interest in Syria – protecting the Assad regime – but it was bound up with broader considerations. What made it a bold move was the complexity of the power projection and the fact the United States, which had overwhelming air superiority in the region, would be forced to resist. Yet, as the Russians knew, they couldn’t resist. 
U.S. opposition to Assad was long-standing, but it predated the rise of the Islamic State. The coalition it tried to create to resist Assad after the civil war broke out had failed to take hold. The fall of Assad would have potentially opened the door for IS, and having IS take over Damascus was not something the United States wanted. The United States could not reverse its position on Assad for political reasons. But the Russian intervention solved the U.S.’s problem. The United States had to condemn the Russians, building up Russian credibility for challenging the United States. But the United States didn’t have to change its position on Assad because Assad’s collapse could be postponed. The U.S. solved its strategic crisis in Syria by allowing Russia to appear to defy American wishes. The Russians could reclaim the standing they lost in Ukraine. Whether this was choreographed is unclear. But I find it hard to imagine Russia inserting aircraft in Syria without consultation with the United States concerning intent and outcome.
What is certainly true was that Putin wanted to get the Ukrainian question back on the table. He could afford frozen conflicts in South Ossetia or between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but Ukraine was too vital to Russia’s interests as a buffer with the West. The Russian withdrawal was not about Syria alone, but also about Ukraine. Putin needed to unfreeze the conflict without appearing too weak.

** Untangling The Threads Of Terrorism In Turkey from STRATFOR

-- this post authored by Scott Stewart
Three strands of terrorism currently have Turkey wrapped in a deadly embrace. One strand made its presence felt March 19, when a suicide bomber detonated his device among a group of tourists on Istiklal Street, one of Istanbul's main pedestrian shopping areas, killing at least four people and wounding dozens, including 24 foreigners.
The attack occurred near a local government office, in an area that includes restaurants, cafes and foreign consulates. Turkish authorities have since identified the bomber as a Turkish member of the Islamic State they had been seeking to arrest. Unfortunately, he was able to attack before he could be apprehended.
The second thread is the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a domestic militant group that seeks independence or autonomy in southeastern Turkey and that is a direct offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). On March 13, the TAKdetonated a car bomb in a central Ankara neighborhood that killed 37, its second large vehicle bomb attack in the Turkish capital this year.
The third strand is the Marxist Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). Two female operatives from the group attacked a police bus with firearms and a hand grenade as it was approaching a police station in Istanbul's Bayrampasa district on March 3. They succeeded in wounding two officers before being confronted and killed by police.
While all three of these groups employ terrorism, each does so in a distinct manner. When these strands are unraveled and examined separately, important lessons can be gleaned about the capabilities of each group and the threat each poses.
Focusing on the How

Terrorist attacks do not just happen. They are the result of a process called theterrorist attack cycle. While every terrorist actor must follow the cycle to conduct an attack, the manner in which they do varies. By examining the terrorist tradecraftemployed by a specific group and focusing on how attacks are conducted, it is possible to detect discernable patterns. These patterns can then be used to help identify the operative or group responsible for a particular attack. This is especially useful in a case where no organization claims responsibility for an attack or a group uses a false name in an effort to hide its hand.
Terrorists can and do improve their tradecraft, but this is normally an evolutionary process rather than a quantum leap, and there are normally indicators of a group's evolving capabilities. This process of incremental advancement can be skipped when a terrorist actor receives outside assistance and training by someone with more advanced capabilities. This has historically been a state sponsor such as the Soviet KGB or East German Stasi, or a more experienced terrorist organization such as the Irish Republican Army, which taught bomb making in terrorist camps in Lebanon, Libya and Yemen. In recent years, such a leap occurred in Nigeria in mid-2011 when Boko Haram and Ansaru suddenly transitioned from using small improvised grenades to successfully employing vehicle bombs. This happened after Nigerian militants reportedly received training from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Shabaab.
The Islamic State in Turkey

Islamic State attacks inside Turkey have been for the most part unsophisticated and aimed at soft targets. In January 2015, the pregnant Chechen widow of an Islamic State fighter detonated a hand grenade at a guard post outside a tourist police station in Istanbul's Sultanahmet district, killing herself and one police officer. It is unclear whether the group was responsible for the attack or if the woman planned and executed it herself. But in mid-2015, the Islamic State began a carefully orchestrated campaign of attacking Kurdish interests in Turkey in an effort to increase Kurdish/Turkish tensions. In June 2015, a pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) rally was targeted by two bombs left in the crowd in Diyarbakir, leaving four HDP members dead and over 100 injured. In July 2015, a suicide bomberattacked a rally at a Kurdish cultural center in Suruc, killing 33 and wounding over 100. Then in October 2015, a double suicide bombing at an HDP rally killed 103 and wounded more than 400 in the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Turkish history.
In 2016, the Islamic State shifted its focus to tourist targets. On Jan. 12, a suicide bomber attacked a group of foreign tourists near the Blue Mosque in Istanbul's Sultanahmet district, killing 13 - mostly German tourists - and wounding nine. The March 19 suicide bombing on Istiklal Street mirrored this attack.

The Week: Elections, Russians and Missiles

Geopolitical Pulse 
George Friedman's take on the week in geopolitics. 
March 19, 2016 
By George Friedman 
The U.S. presidential candidates grabbed headlines, while events in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula also took center stage. 
The world’s attention this past week was focused on negotiations and power plays – in Syria, North Korea and even the U.S. presidential election. Obviously, the U.S. elections dominated much of the thinking in the United States, but it also garnered a lot of attention abroad. Americans would be surprised by the degree of interest foreigners have in American elections. They shouldn’t be. The United States is the most powerful nation in the world and what it does and says affects all countries. There is, therefore, an obsession over the election. Recall that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Barack Obama shortly after his election, simply because he was elected. There were expectations about what he would do during his presidency that were preposterous in retrospect, and pretty absurd at the time. But the global myth of the American president is that he is a mystic emperor, with the ability to will the impossible into being if he chooses. The fact that the president has pretty limited unilateral powers really isn’t understood.

Therefore, the world is both appalled and delighted by the American election. It is appalled because its vision of Donald Trump frightens people. Most believe that he would create chaos. They are much happier with Hillary Clinton, because they think of her as far more conventional and predictable. Many in the world are also delighted. It is always hoped that the leading power, whoever it is, will self-destruct, freeing the world of all its problems, and also demonstrating that it was unworthy of the role. Many see Trump’s success thus far as proof that the United States is as deeply flawed as they had feared and hoped. But as it becomes more likely that we have identified the candidates, the specter of Trump has fixated a far greater portion of the world than we might think. Whether fair or not, the fear of Trump is great, which motivates other countries to close deals while Obama is still in power.
In a sense, the American elections will be the major theme in the world in coming months. But there will be other developments. This week, the Russians decided to withdraw the core of their forces, mostly aircraft, from Syria. That was followed by a phone conversation between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the announcement that Secretary of State John Kerry was traveling to Moscow for talks. We should recall that a few weeks ago Henry Kissinger went to Moscow. At his age, that was not a frivolous trip. He is frequently used by U.S. all administrations to explore possibilities and float ideas. Kissinger is likely appalled at the events in Ukraine and the deterioration of Russia’s relationship with the world, and he would, on a guess, be used to float ideas for a settlement.

I want to remind readers that, in our view, the Russian intervention in Syria seemed to be a challenge to the United States but actually solved an American problem. The U.S. was historically hostile to the Bashar al-Assad regime, and the uprising against Assad was welcomed. With the emergence of the Islamic State in Syria, that opposition had become problematic. If Assad loses and the opposition is fragmented into dozens of groups, what would stop IS from taking Damascus? There are many factors that might stop them, but since IS has done what seemed impossible in the past, the U.S. can’t discount the worst case. Therefore, the U.S. didn’t want Assad to fall, but it didn’t want to reverse policy and save him. Enter the Russians, whom the U.S. roundly condemned and I think quietly welcomed. There had to be prior discussion and coordination, if only because the Russians were introducing combat aircraft in an area where the U.S. has air superiority and neither side wanted the kind of incident that occurred in Turkey, when the Turks shot down a Russian plane. So there were talks. And each side leaks like a sieve. 

* Charting the Course for Nuclear Security: An Indian Perspective

RAKESH SOOD , Article March 23, 2016 

After the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, likely the last in the series, the primary challenge will be sustaining the momentum generated by these meetings thus far.
The immense potential of nuclear power is both seductive and scary. In the early years of the nuclear age, the scary aspect led the scientific community to raise the banner of nuclear disarmament, but the seductive component proved too strong for political leaders to ignore.
With the age of bipolarity dominating the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union cooperated to create a new narrative in which what was scary was the threat of proliferation. By the end of the 1960s, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty had been concluded, and the 1970s saw the birth of nonproliferation-related export control regimes.
The proliferation threat became more pronounced with the breakup of the Soviet Union. And after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the threat narrative underwent another change. Credible intelligence revealed that global terrorist networks were actively seeking weapons of mass destruction, particularly fissile material and radioactive sources, leading to a renewed interest in nuclear security. This theme received a push from U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2009 Prague speech that, in addition to calling for nuclear disarmament (an appeal that has gone largely unheeded), urged the securing of all vulnerable nuclear material in four years.

The next year, the United States hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit. Follow-on summits were held in 2012 and 2014 in Seoul and The Hague, respectively, and the cycle will conclude with another summit in Washington from March 31 to April 1, 2016.
The Washington summit is likely the last in what has been a productive series. For India and the rest of the participants, the primary challenge now will be how to sustain the momentum generated by these summits thus far.
Global Terrorism and Growing Concerns

Nuclear security is not a new objective; it has always been an integral part of nuclear safety. But with the emergence of global jihadi threats like al-Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State, it has taken on a new profile that is unlikely to diminish. In 2016, guaranteeing nuclear security includes preventing unauthorized access to nuclear materials, facilities, and technologies; ensuring timely detection were a breach to take place; and, finally, establishing effective responses to acts of terror and sabotage.
There are three potential types of nuclear terrorist threats—that terrorists could acquire and set off a nuclear bomb, sabotage a nuclear facility leading to a nuclear accident, or create radioactive dispersion using a dirty bomb. A crude explosive device can be made with sufficient fissile material. For terrorists acting with the help of a radicalized expert working on the inside, sabotaging a nuclear reactor with the attendant fallout may prove even easier. Radioactive devices are widely used in hospitals and research laboratories, and their malicious use can generate widespread panic while costing billions of dollars in terms of radiological cleanup.
Al-Qaeda documentation indicates it has considered and pursued all three options. Intercepted communications suggest that al-Qaeda has access to nuclear experts, and that it undertook experiments using conventional explosives in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda has been weakened in recent years, but the Islamic State harbors similar ambitions.
The Indian Fuel Cycle and Legal Framework

India’s nuclear program today involves all aspects of the fuel cycle, covering mining, uranium enrichment and reprocessing, nuclear power, and breeder reactors. In addition, as a responsible nuclear-weapon state, India operates a military fuel cycle with attendant facilities. Although military fuel cycles are excluded from the purview of the Nuclear Security Summit process, nuclear-weapon states bear a national responsibility for ensuring the highest level of security at these facilities, too.
The legal framework is provided by India’s Atomic Energy Act under which rules and notifications are issued periodically. All nuclear materials and activities are reserved for the state under the act. The rules address radiation protection, disposal of radioactive waste, nuclear transfers, network security for control systems, and material accounting protocols that focus on both safety and security.
India’s Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act of 1992 and the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act of 2005 control nuclear trade and transfers. Though India is not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, its export control lists and rules are consistent with NSG guidelines. Every nuclear facility devises its physical protection system using the Design Basis Threat document, which undergoes periodic revisions.

The US Obsession with Cuba

March 22, 2016 
By George Friedman 
Cuba’s location means more to the United States than any government in Havana. 
President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba has been called historic. It is, but not nearly as much for its contemporary significance, as for its part in the long and complex relationship between the United States and Cuba. The United States has had a long obsession with Cuba, but not an irrational one, because Cuba is potentially one of the most dangerous threats to the United States. This assertion is preposterous in any sense but one: geography.
The foundation of the United States is the area between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains. The eastern half of this region, the Northwest Territory, was ceded to the United States by the British after the Revolutionary War. It was the territory east of the Mississippi. The U.S. purchased the area west of the Mississippi from France in 1803. These two territories together form a vast plain, which is the heartland of the United States. It is one of the most fertile places on earth, and it generated the wealth that helped fuel American industrialization. Before that, it fueled the Industrial Revolution in Britain. The food exported from this region allowed the British to scale back agriculture, and in doing that, freed up manpower from Britain’s farms that went to work in its developing factories and mines. Without the agricultural production, British industrialization would not have been possible at the pace it happened, and that, for better or worse, would have changed human history. In a very real sense, global industrialization began in the farms of the American heartland.

The key to this was not fertile land and hardworking farmers. Both existed elsewhere. Rather, it was the ability to transport the surplus produced on the farms and distribute them globally. That was made possible by the thing that made the region unique: its extraordinary river system. The Missouri, the Ohio and numerous other rivers flowed into the Mississippi and then down to the city of New Orleans, which was as far inland as ocean-going vessels could go and as far south the river barges could go. And it was here that the produce was transferred to ships bound for Britain. If the mouth of the Mississippi were closed, the transport would have been impossible, the heartland would have been economically crushed, and the United States would not have developed as it did. In 1814, Andrew Jackson fought the British at New Orleans, defeated them and preserved American access to the Gulf of Mexico and to the world. The ports in and around New Orleans are the largest ports in the United States in terms of tonnage. Agricultural products still come south from the harvest, and oil and manufactured goods travel north to the Midwest. 

Be bold at the Nuclear Summit

Nuclear security is not about nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, or nuclear safety. This leads some to downplay its significance or suspect that it is a ploy to constrain India’s nuclear programme
Next week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Washington, DC for the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), the fourth and the last in a series that was launched by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in 2010. Follow-on summits have been held in Seoul and The Hague in 2012 and 2014, respectively. India has played an active role in the process with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attending the first two summits. A voluntary contribution of a million dollars to the Nuclear Security Fund has been made. More significant has been the initiative for establishment of a Global Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Energy Partnership, which has already conducted more than a dozen national and international courses in relevant fields.

A natural role
India’s profile in the NSS process is natural given our concerns about global terrorism and the growing threat posed by terrorists seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Since 2002, India has been introducing a resolution on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the United Nations General Assembly, adopted by consensus every year. It laid the groundwork for the legally binding Security Council Resolution 1540 adopted in 2005. Therefore when President Obama highlighted this threat in his famous Prague speech in 2009 and called upon the international community to ensure the securing of all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years, a positive Indian response was natural.
There is another reason too. Nuclear power today constitutes a small part in India’s electricity generation, but this is due to change. Currently, the twenty nuclear power plants in operation have a capacity of 4.8 GW, out of a total installed power generation capacity of 240 GW. A quarter of India’s population does not have access to electricity and energy poverty has been identified as a major obstacle to economic growth. The Integrated Energy Policy visualises the installed capacity rising to 1200 GW by 2035, with nuclear power contributing 60 GW. This will be 5 per cent, but it is critical in terms of reducing fossil fuel dependence and mitigating the carbon footprint. Any breach in nuclear safety or security that could undermine public confidence in nuclear energy would have grave repercussions on India’s long-term energy planning. For India, therefore, nuclear security is not a new objective, but has always been a priority along with nuclear safety.
Threat of nuclear terrorism

With the emergence of global jihadi threats like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, nuclear security has taken on additional urgency. Three potential nuclear terrorist threats have been identified. First is the threat of terrorists making or acquiring a nuclear bomb and exploding it; second is the possibility of sabotaging an existing nuclear facility to create an accident; and finally, third is the possibility of use of radioactive material to create a ‘dirty bomb’ or a radiological dispersal device.
The last is often considered the easiest for a suicide squad, given the fact that there are millions of medical devices and other equipment that contain small amounts of radioactive substances (cobalt-60, americium-241, caesium-137) which are widely distributed and do not have the kind of security normally associated with nuclear reactor facilities. Irrespective of the number of fatalities, a dirty bomb can create widespread panic and cost billions in cleaning-up operations. Insider support by a radicalised sympathiser could render a nuclear facility vulnerable to sabotage. It is well established that in the past al-Qaeda has not only considered and pursued all the three options, but also had access to nuclear expertise. Al-Qaeda may have been weakened today but the IS is also known to harbour similar ambitions.

Terrorists don’t recognize borders. Europe’s security forces are failing because they do

WRITTEN BY Aamna Mohdin
The March 22 attacks on the Brussels metro system and airport have been described as “an attack on all of Europe.” With Brussels having been struck a few months after Paris was subject to Europe’s worst terrorist attack in a decade, many are wondering how this can happen again, so soon and on such a large scale.
As the French and British leaders declared recently (pdf): “Europe is no longer a safe haven.”
Some have blamed the European Union (EU) itself for yet another catastrophic attack on a member state’s soil. But the Brussels attacks suggests the problem is the complete opposite: it’s Europe failure to work together across the region that’s the issue.

National vs. regional security
“National security and regional security are completely connected,” Fiona de Londras, a professor of global legal studies who focuses on counter-terrorism at the University of Birmingham, tells Quartz. “There’s no way of being secure nationally without strong transnational cooperation.”
“There is a long history in all security institutions of being very cautious about sharing information with anyone,” she adds. This has contributed to an intelligence black hole in Europe’s counterterrorism strategy.
“Terrorism is borderless; intelligence has to be borderless, too.” 
Brahim Abdeslam, one of the Paris attackers who detonated his suicide vest outside the Comptoir Voltaire café, was previously known to Brussels police as the owner of a Brussels café, Les Beguines, that peddled drugs in an area known for its radicalism. Brahim and his brother, Salah, were both questioned by Brussels police about Brahim’s failed attempt to reach Syria (he got as far as Turkey). Security forces didn’t flag up these dribs and drabs of information with each other.

Silly “two-front war” scenario and related IAF’s Rafale push at expense of Su-30

All war planning ought to be on the basis of the worst case. That’s a truism. But the worst imaginable circumstances still have to bear some relation to reality and should be based on reasonable probability calculus. That there is cooperation and collaboration between China and Pakistan in the conventional and nuclear military fields, leading to sharing of intelligence, and transfer of weapons and related technologies is to acknowledge a fact. To conclude from this that China will join with Pakistan in waging general military hostilities against India is, however, to indulge one’s fancies and is belied by history.
Time and again, having initiated conflicts that rapidly turned against it on the ground, Islamabad hoped, and fervently pleaded for, the Chinese militarily to intervene — open a second front, to stave off inevitable defeat. This happened in 1965 when Beijing, trying to please its partner, warned Delhi about some of its livestock on the disputed mountainous border being herded off by Indians which probable cause for war was immediately rendered laughable when, to Beijing’s mortification, Indian opposition leaders, the socialist Madhu Limaye, among them, marched to the Chinese embassy gates in Chanakyapuri offering a gaggle of bleating goats in train as recompense. In 1971, Yahya waited in Islamabad, Niazi in Dhaka, for the “yellow army” to save Pakistan’s goose/goat from being tandoored with the Indian army contingents speedily converging on the Pak forces in soon-to-be Bangladesh, and waited some more before giving up the ghost and abjectly surrendering.
This to say that no country — a calculating and cautious China least of all — will fight on another’s country’s behalf or help out if its means courting danger for itself, let alone save, even an “all weather friend” — Pakistan that has managed once again to muddle into yet another military mess of its own creation. China will do everything short of actually deploying its forces especially now and in the future when it knows that opening a war front in the north and east in concert with Pakistan doing the same in the west, for any reason whatsoever, could likely end — should the situation become dire enough to India to merit it — Agni-5s popping up mushroom clouds over the extended Shanghai region and abruptly ending China’s run as economic power. If the Chinese were not foolish enough to do this in the past when much less was at stake, it is likely they will be even more circumspect now and in the future when, other than concerns of avoiding irreparable damage and destruction to itself, will be preoccupied with displacing the US as the dominant great power rather than stepping into the breach for a whiny but risk-acceptant Pakistan on its flanks. So a two front war featuring China and Pakistan is not only inconceivable but the weakest possible predicate for Indian force planning.

India's Place in the Sun: The International Solar Alliance

India is set to lead the International Solar Alliance, but its task is not without challenges.
By Raymond E. Vickery, March 23, 2016
India is placing a big bet on solar energy. During his first year in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi quintupled India’s goal for solar. His new budget announces a 2.45 times increase in the national lending facility for solar. The outcome of India’s solar bet will radically affect the chances for success of Modi’s prized “Power for All” and “Make in India” initiatives. The use of solar innovation to meet India’s energy goals may well determine whether India is able to supply electrical power for all and have enough energy to support increased manufacturing output.
India’s leadership in establishing the International Solar Alliance (ISA) which was launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris last fall, is a part of New Delhi’s big bet on solar. The ISA could have significant geopolitical implications. Most developing nations are like India: blessed with an abundance of sunshine, but cursed by a lack of electrical power. India has been playing catch up to China on efforts to combat climate change ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping, with President Obama at his side, announced China’s intent to reach a peak of greenhouse gas emissions in 2032. India has been unwilling to make such a commitment, but did announce a goal of obtaining 40 percent of its electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2030 at the Paris climate change summit.

India’s leadership on solar may provide a way for it to surge to the head of the pack on energy and the environment. However, the ultimate success of India’s big bet on solar will require additional research, available financing, and viable solar projects that will tie together the aforementioned research and financing to benefit consumers.
India’s dream is to transform a portion of the solar radiation with which it is bombarded (some 150,000 gigawatts per year) into usable electricity. The difficulty has been the cost of this transformation – particularly in comparison to the cost of power from India’s large supplies of low caloric, dirty coal and lignite. The cost of solar per kilowatt hour dropped from a 2012 Planning Commission estimate of Rs. 10.4 – 12.5 to Rs. 4.3 in the latest round of “reverse auctions” (low bid wins). Still, there have been numerous coal-fired power providers that have signed power purchase agreements with state distribution companies between Rs.2.25 and 3.0 per kilowatt hour. Thus, continued technological development is needed to make solar solutions price-competitive with coal.
Furthermore, additional research is needed to solve solar’s constancy problem. No solar power can be created when the sun does not shine; this could be because it is night time, because of inclement weather, or, increasingly in India, because air pollution obscures the sun. Thus, power storage technology must be developed further if energy from the sun is to be available even when the sun is not shining or is obscured.

‘The Crucible Of Terror’ — How ISIS Established Network Of Terror In Brussels — Despite Police Surveillance; ISIS Reportedly Dispatches 400 Jihadis Across Europe To Strike In Deadly Waves’

March 24, 2016 
Jake Wallis Simons writes on the March 23, 2016 Daily Mail Online, that “the seeds of the terror blasts that shook Europe, were planned by a brotherhood of childhood friends who grew up just a few doors away from each other in a part of Brussels dubbed “the crucible of terror.” “Police following the trail of the terrorists murderers behind the atrocities in France and Belgium have repeatedly arrived at a single block of housing in Molenbeek, a district of Brussels known as a hotbed of jihadism.”
“The center of the deadly network is the Abdelslam family home, a first floor apartment on Gemeenplaats, behind the police station — and just around the corner from the home of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ‘brains’ behind the Paris attacks,” Mr. Simons wrote. “Questions remain,” he adds “about how a gang of young men, all of whom were Belgian citizens,” were “transformed into death-loving monsters, showing loyalty to each other; but, [demonstrating] a profound hatred of their country and fellow citizens.”

“Belgian authorities were so focused on Molenbeek, known as the hotbed of jihadism, that they were unaware that Europe’s most wanted man was forming a new terror network in Schaerbeek, another Muslim-dominated area just three miles down the road,” Mr. Simons wrote. “The local community there views police with contempt,” the locals told The Daily Mail Online, “and are unlikely to report terrorists to the authorities, even if they do not have jihadist sympathies themselves.” “Frankly, I wasn’t surprised,’ a policewoman who wished to remain anonymous told The Daily Mail Online. “Nobody takes what happens in the district seriously. Every day, we arrest well known criminals, and the next day they are back on the street. It is frustrating that we are doing our work; but, the justice system doesn’t back us up. These people aren’t being prosecuted, or fined, they are just being released. We arrest them,and nothing happens. One or two hours later they smile and mock us, believing they are on the winning side. The lack of respect for police and for Belgium in the local multicultural community meant that the terror cell could operate without fear of being reported. This made Schaerbeek — which has been ‘off the radar’ for terror police — the ideal place for the terror jihadi to hideout. We have been asking for the higher authorities to take this district more seriously; but, it hasn’t happened,” she said. The Daily Mail Online added that the policewoman’s commanding officer, who also wanted to remain anonymous, agreed with her observations. “We have not been blind to the fact that something serious has been going on here.”

ISIS Reportedly Dispatches 400 Jihadis Across Europe To Strike In Deadly Waves’
Reading the above, one gets a better understanding of how militant Islam is allowed, or has been allowed to flourish in the ghettos and downtrodden areas of Brussels. Authorities and intelligence professionals there have their work cut out for them; and, if the title above is correct — more attacks are coming, as some 400-600 ISIS sleeper agents — individuals who have been fighting in Iraq and Syria for ISIS — are now back, scattered across Europe, and poised to attack. Romil Patel writes in the March 23, 2016 edition of the International Business Times, that “the fanned out network of interlocking terror cells — similar to the ones who conducted the Paris and Brussels attacks, have “orders to choose the time, place, and method [of attack] to cause maximum damage.”

Operation Hemorrhage: The Terror Plans to Wreck the West’s Economy

16 10:30 
The Western economy is a key underlying target in attacks like the one that the Islamic State perpetrated in Brussels.
Every European who flies frequently knows the airport in Zaventem, has spent time in the ticketing area that was strewn with blood, limbs, broken glass, battered luggage and other wreckage.
It was another attack on aviation that pulled the United States into the conflict sometimes known as the “global war on terror” in the first place. Since then, airports and airplanes have remained a constant target for Islamic militants, with travelers being encumbered by new batches of security measures after each new attack or attempt.
After the ex-con Richard Reid managed to sneak a bomb aboard a transatlantic flight in December 2001, but failed to detonate the explosives, American passengers were forced to start removing their shoes on their way through security. After British authorities foiled a 2006 plot in which terrorists planned to bring liquid explosives hidden in sport drink bottles aboard multiple transatlantic flights, authorities strictly limited the quantity of liquids passengers were allowed to carry. When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab snuck explosives hidden in his underwear onto a flight on Christmas Day 2009, he ushered in full-body scans and intrusive pat-downs.
Those are the misses. There have been hits, too. In August 2004, two female Chechen suicide bombers, so-called “black widows,” destroyed two domestic Russian flights. In January 2011, a suicide bomber struck Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in an attack that looked almost identical to the one that rocked the airport in Brussels: the bomber struck just outside the security cordon, where the airport is transformed from a “soft” target to a “hard” one. Just months ago, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS)—the perpetrator of the Brussels attacks—destroyed a Russian passenger jet flying out of Egypt’s Sinai, killing 224 people.

Poppy Production: The Taliban's Cash Cow

Kabul can win battles, but it will never win the war unless it disrupts the Taliban’s major funding source: poppies.
By Kriti Shah, March 24, 2016

The month of April is when poppy will be harvested in Afghanistan. In 2014, the poppy plant in 2014 was Afghanistan’s biggest export, valued at $2.8 billion or 13 percent of the country’s GDP. The Taliban has in recent months upped their offensive in the southern provinces, such as Helmand, where poppy is grown in order to secure the harvest for themselves. Subsequently they will smuggle the poppy out of the country and use the money to fund their insurgency.
The Afghan government, along with the United States, needs a serious rethink of its counternarcotics program, including it as a part of its larger counterterrorism strategy. Failure to do so for so long has resulted in the resurgence of the Taliban, making 2015 “bloodiest” year of fighting since 2001, with the highest number of Afghan security force and Taliban casualties.

The Taliban have mastered smuggling poppy through Afghanistan and into Iran and Pakistan, supplying 90 percent of the world’s illicit opiates. The pods on the poppy plant produce opium in its purest form, which is later refined into heroin and sold across the world. In 2014, an average poppy farm in the southern province of Helmand yielded 19 kilograms of opium per hectare, according to the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with a selling price of $200/kg. There is no clear estimate as to how much of the Taliban’s income comes from opium. However, one estimate is that the group receives more than one-third of its income from direct taxes it levies on poppy farmers, tolls at checkpoints, and shipment protection fees from truckers, making anywhere from between $100 million to $300 million in a single year.
Kabul has been losing the war against the Taliban in the southern, poppy-rich part of the country. In Helmand, which yielded almost half of Afghanistan’s entire opium harvest in 2014, the Taliban currently control five out of the 14 districts. In two other districts, they control most of the territory except the government centers and they are active in at least four other districts, thereby giving them a foothold in more than half of the province. Helmand has seen some of the fiercest battles between the Taliban and foreign and government forces since 2001; it is the province which has recorded the highest number of coalition troop deaths since 2001. As the Taliban wrestles control away from the government in parts of the province, they have also steadily gained greater access to the poppy fields.

Peace Talks With Taliban Dying As Insurgents Again Are Gaining Ground Inside Afghanistan

Prospects of Taliban peace talks dim as front lines shift
Associated Press, March 25, 2016
ISLAMABAD (AP) – Prospects of jumpstarting peace talks with the Taliban are becoming increasingly dim amid recent battlefield gains by the insurgents in Afghanistan, an embattled government in Kabul and growing suspicions of Pakistan’s good intentions in facilitating such negotiations.
Even if Pakistan wanted to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table, its leverage as a safe haven for the Taliban has weakened as the insurgents’ southern Afghan heartland has expanded, providing them with more places to hide at home.
The Taliban were toppled in the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and have fought against the Kabul government and NATO forces ever since. Their insurgency escalated after the end in 2014 of the U.S.-NATO combat mission.
That pullout left inexperienced and poorly trained Afghan forces to battle insurgents largely on their own. When the Taliban launched their annual warm-weather offensive last year, Kabul responded with large-scale military operations, but the Taliban gained ground.
A report released this month by the independent Afghan Analysts Network offered a breakdown of the southern Helmand province, showing the Taliban in control of parts of many districts and all of other districts, with the exception of district capitals.
The AAN, which is based in Kabul, concluded that the Taliban have become better armed and better organized, and have established “well-equipped and mobile commando-like” units.
As a result, neighboring Pakistan, which has acted as a traditional go-between, has lost some of its leverage over the insurgents and may no longer have the authority to bring the Taliban into the talks.
“Pakistan has derived its influence over the Taliban through the safe havens it provides to the group on its soil,” said Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the U.S.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Pakistan’s paranoia over connectivity

If Pakistan persists in its obstructionist agenda, it would find itself marginalized in the larger South Asian dynamic
In Yogi Berra’s words, it’s déjà vu all over again. Pakistan has backtracked from its support for the trans-South Asian road connectivity project after suggesting that it needed more time to consider the implications of this project. And with this, Pakistan has managed to scuttle a pact that would have allowed free movement of passenger and cargo vehicles with the Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nations. After Pakistan had refused to sign this pact at the Kathmandu summit of Saarc in November 2014, India along with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh had decided to move ahead of their accord. In June 2015, these four states signed a landmark Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) for the regulation of passenger, personnel and cargo vehicular traffic among the four South Asian neighbours in Thimphu, Bhutan. This major initiative is expected to pave the way for a seamless movement of people and goods across their borders for the benefit and integration of the region, thereby galvanizing economic development in South Asia at large. India only has bilateral motor vehicle agreements with Nepal and Bangladesh, but a multilateral pact would go a long way in boosting trade in the region. The agreement opens up the possibility of turning border roads into economic corridors which could increase inter-regional trade within South Asia by 60%.

Taking note of the finding that transforming transport corridors into economic corridors could potentially increase intra-regional trade within South Asia by almost 60% and with the rest of the world by over 30%, the joint statement read, “We acknowledge that apart from physical infrastructure, the development of economic corridors within and between our countries requires the implementation of policy and regulatory measures, including the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) MVA, which will help address the non-physical impediments to the seamless movement of goods vehicles and people between our four countries.”
A broader Saarc agreement would have allowed the free movement of vehicles of each country—cargo as well as passenger vehicles—in the territory of the other country through an authorized operator. After Pakistan’s obstructionist stance could not be cleared, India decided to tap its eastern neighbours and the framework of the new agreement was finalized at the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC)—another grouping of South Asian countries which includes India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Pakistan is not part of this grouping. SASEC was set up in 2001 to bring together these six countries to promote regional prosperity and boost trade by improving cross-border connectivity.

The Legitimacy of the Chinese Government

Written by Frank Li
For the past two decades at least, China bashing has been an American pastime, especially for the main-stream media and politicians. Two main reasons: 
It's popular, convenient, and relatively inconsequential, unlike, for example, Mexico bashing (as amply proven by Donald Trump). 
Thanks to the arrogance of the American logic: "if it's very different from us, it must be bad, because we're the best." This logic is especially true for the political system: China is a dictatorship, while we are a democracy! The fact that the ruling party in China is named the "Communist Party of China" (or CPC) has only made China bashing easier and more acceptable ... 
Worse yet, some Americans even doubt the legitimacy of the Chinese government, because its leaders are not democratically elected, like ours are ...

1. Self-determination
Whether a government is legitimate is up to its citizens to determine!
1.1 Self-determination for yourself
As the longest continual civilization in human history, China has had many dynasties over the past five thousand years. They come and go, with most dynasty changes being internally caused and hugely bloody!
America gained independence from the British via the bloody American Revolution.
1.2 Self-determination for others
In this regard, China has been one of the best behaving countries in the world for the past two thousand years, at least! China has rarely interfered in other countries' affairs. In contrast, after WWII, the U.S. officially replaced the U.K. as the new Empire, instigating international crises everywhere (e.g. Vietnam and Panama). It got much worse after 1991 (when the Cold War ended), with the Iraq War being the worst example! For more, read: 9/11 Attack vs. Pearl Harbor Attack.

Rebalancing Chinese growth: Tougher challenges may lie elsewhere

23 March 2016 1:00PM
Can China continue its stunning transformation from economic backwardness to become a modern economy? The Reserve Bank of Australia gathered leading experts from around the world to debate the issue in Sydney last week.
When economists gather together, there is never a definitive resolution. Everyone, however, agrees on one thing: China needs an economic transformation. The double-digit growth of China's pre-2008 period was unsustainable, and the future pace of growth (officially put at around 6.5-7%) requires less investment and more consumption. Can the current share of investment (close to half of GDP) be cut back while still maintaining the overall growth target?
When China began its growth spurt in the 1980s, there had to be a substantial 'rotation' of GDP in favour of investment. This is the familiar textbook 'accelerator' process: to produce an extra dollar of output, you need to invest around three dollars to increase the capital stock. If you want to grow at 10%, you have to put 30% of GDP into investment just to keep capital/output the same. Higher living standards require capital deepening as well, so you need to invest even more.
But this accelerator process doesn't last. Investment can't rise faster than GDP forever. Growth slows and the pressing need to expand the capital stock quickly passes.
China's current sequence is, in fact, a common pattern in the countries which have already achieved rapid convergence. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore all exhibited this extraordinary capacity-enhancing rise in investment, largely funded from a spectacular rise in domestic savings. China's investment/saving performance has been outside this prior experience, but not by much.

What happens next?
Not all of these precedent countries had a seamless transition from the take off growth-spurt back to longer-term sustainable pace of growth. But Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan pulled it off successfully. This should give some confidence that China can scale up this same sequence.
So far so good. The apex of China's growth trajectory was the pre-2008 decade. Double-digit growth was made possible on the supply side, by a rapid expansion of investment, and on the demand side, initially by exporting, as reflected in a current account surplus of 10% of GDP in 2007. 
The 2008 Global Financial Crisis brought this phase to an end. With global demand weak, the current account surplus fell dramatically — to less than 3% of GDP. The shortfall in demand was filled by a huge policy stimulus (close to 10% of GDP), not in the conventional form of fiscal expansion, but through the easing of direct credit controls. This meant that China not only avoided the global slump (and thanks to that, Australia did also), but actually restored double-digit growth in 2010 and 2011 while the rest of the world was mired in the Great Recession.

Witness the new great-power move: Big, fast, sudden, and unpredictable

24 March 2016 
Russia’s surprise announcement earlier this month that it would drawback from Syria was lauded both in the West and at home as a tactical (if not strategic) masterstroke. Other leaders might hesitate, but not Vladimir Putin, who always seems 'one step ahead'. Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been revealed to be cautious and nuanced, a lead-from-behind restraint that his detractors say contrasts poorly with his counterpart in Moscow. Syria is chalked up as Putin’s 'coup'.
Or so the story goes. Perhaps we should wait to see how things turn out in Syria longer term. After all, Russia’s pullout is partial and possibly temporary. Putin declares his main objectives to be accomplished, although most observers judge them to be quite different from Russia’s original stated mission to help fight Islamic State. Namely, by shoring up his ally Assad, Putin was able successfully to demonstrate Russia’s standing as a geopolitical peer of the United States, prove some new weapons systems, sow chaos in Europe, and then get the hell out before the 'quagmire' predicted by Obama sets in. Admittedly he has left behind ongoing civil strife and misery, a seething feud with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and probably an energized Sunni diaspora eager to exact revenge back home in Russia. But for now, the narrative of Russia outfoxing the West prevails.
This is especially true in an important market for Russian propaganda, China, where a quarter of the population views Moscow as its foremost ally. China's party-surnamed media is strident in its admiration for Putin’s Syrian adventure. Here is a typical editorial comment:

Russia has also emerged with a new regional and international stature. The US and its allies dithered over Syria, seeking Assad’s removal, yet unwilling to commit militarily to the task. They similarly lacked the resolve to take on IS. Putin grasped the initiative and Russia is now the dominant player. 
Ignoring the small oversight that Russia barely targeted IS, this is revealing. Aside from the vicarious pleasure of watching Russia’s ‘dominance’ over the hapless West, what inspires Chinese editors is ‘commitment’, ‘initiative’ and ‘resolve’ — which happen to be the defining characteristics of modern Chinese military doctrine. Roger Cliff in a new book summarises a 1999 PLA document:

China and the Mekong Delta: Water Savior or Water Tyrant?

Don’t be fooled by reports about China discharging water to alleviate drought along the Mekong.
By Margaret Zhou, March 23, 2016
The Mekong Delta is facing its worst drought in recent history, causing food and water shortages for over half a million people. The Chinese government has made headlines amidst the disaster for its decision to release water from upstream dams within China’s borders. Chinese ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a news briefing that China “hopes it can be of help in alleviating the drought downstream.”
The water will be released until April 10 from the Jinghong dam, with the stated purpose to benefit Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The Chinese ministry and media blame El Niño weather for the massive drought that has damaged 160,000 hectares (approximately 620 square miles) of rice in the Mekong Delta, left 600,000 people facing drinking water shortages, and resulted in losses of over $220 million. Vietnamese officials say El Nino is partly to blame, along with excessive construction of more than 10 hydropower dams on the upper stream of the river.
Little reporting on the issue has linked the drought to the dams, despite comments by Vietnamese officials. Mekong River conservationists, on the other hand, have been quick to draw connections. Niwat Roykaew, chair of Chiang Khong Conservation Group, believes the drought is caused by the six major man-made reservoirs on the upstream portion of the Mekong that lie within China’s borders.

“The Mekong River has a cycle. Rainwater in the monsoon season refreshes the snowpack and raises water levels. Snow melts in the dry season when the water levels are low. We don’t need more water from dams in the dry season. We need to sustain the natural circle that feeds the ecosystems and our livelihoods,” Roykaew said.
Drought in the Mekong Delta is nothing new. In 2010, a similar buzz was generated when the Mekong was facing its then worst-drought-in-history. China had just begun a campaign to counter the perception that its dams were hijacking the Mekong’s water as the river runs from the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea. At several news conferences, they made their case that the drought is purely a natural phenomenon.
China has good political reason to turn blame away from its dams. In an aggressive game of water diplomacy, China has gained enormous leverage over downstream countries by taking control over their primary water sources.

Russia's Military Modernization Is Working, But the Money's Running Out


By Torie Rose DeGhett, March 23, 2016
The partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria earlier this month, after a campaign of bombing that began last September in support of the Syrian regime, isn't the end of president Vladimir Putin's involvement in the country. Russia is keeping its Latakia airbase and promising to go back to using force against ceasefire violators. Even so, Putin can take a victory lap. The campaign to shore up president Bashar al-Assad's faltering army has been a success, and it has accomplished another major goal for Moscow: It has shown the world that an immensely expensive, multi-decade program to rebuild Russia's armed forces is working.
The impact of the new weapons and training it brought had been on display first in Crimea in 2014, and then in the skies over eastern and central Syria over the past six months.
In Crimea, Russian troops (which Russia has denied using) proved that Moscow can use highly trained and disciplined soldiers to execute a swift, effective campaign, one which resulted in the seizure of a large chunk of territory. And in Syria, Russia demonstrated a significant growth in its capability to project force far from its borders, as well as tangible changes to its arsenal.
Russia had already fought successfully abroad in recent years, with the invasion of neighboring Georgia in 2008. Its army and air force overwhelmed the Georgians, but also displayed serious problems with command and control, intelligence, and organization. The air force even lost a number of planes to friendly fire, during an engagement that lasted little more than a week. By comparison, in the nearly six months of its Syria campaign, Russia lost only one plane, shot down by Turkey.

"If you were to have told them back then," said Michael Kofman, a CNA Corporation analyst and fellow at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute who specializes in Russia, "that in 2016 they would deploy to Syria, much further away, with a much more modernized air force, and they would conduct an air campaign for months without a single loss to ground fire, and they would be using drones and satellite imagery ... it would sound like science fiction."
Shortly after the Russia - Georgia war, then-Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov launched an ambitious program to reform and improve the Russian military. The plan is to spend 20 trillion rubles on weapons systems between 2011 and 2020, with the intent ofmodernizing 70 percent of the armed forces by the end of this decade.
That ambitious goal wasn't mere vainglory. It was a crucial element in the foreign policy of the biggest nation on Earth, heir to a superpower but unable, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, to muster the clout that comes from being able to credibly fight anybody, anywhere on the globe, at any time. Putin wanted to change that.

Brussels Then, Now, and in the Future

Posted by Joel Weickgenant on March 22, 2016
My daily digest of reading this morning started on a troubling if relatively speculative note. As a naturalized Dutch citizen living in the United Kingdom, I take a personal as well as professional interest in Britain's June 23 vote on whether to remain in the European Union. This article in the Financial Times encapsulated the concerns of the 2.9 million EU citizens living here, as it described a rush on applications for British citizenship by long-time residents hoping to avoid their status being subject to "negotiations between the UK and Brussels" in the event of a so-called Brexit.
I'll come back to that topic in proper context. No sooner was that article digested than Twitter feeds, smartphone alerts, and front pages across the web began to blaze with the news of just the latest vicious attack on Europe's open forums. The details are still coming in now, three-quarters of a workday later, with the latest updates being the inevitable claim of responsibility by the Islamic State group, and the disarming, reported by AP, of a third bomb at Zaventem Airport
Brexit suddenly mattered very little. What mattered, instead, was the safety of friends and colleagues in Brussels. Messages fly across WhatsApp, status updates on Facebook. The defiant face of the Je Suis social media emblem popularized when Paris was attacked last year turns to an acerbic grimace. This is the new normal, and it's sinking in. Projecting further down the line, we in Europe consider our daily commutes -- the trains connecting Utrecht to Amsterdam or Amsterdam to Brussels, or the Eurostar that flies the flag of white-collar European integration under the English Channel between Paris and London -- every journey, every day, is its own small risk. It is a secular reality that is not changing any time soon
Where security is no longer a given, the politics will only turn ever more sour. Brussels is a synecdoche. Anyone who has ever spent any time in the Belgian and European capital knows the hopes it physically embodies: With its smart, polyglot mix of workers from across the Continent populating the areas around Schuman Square where the European institutions have their home, it gives credence to the ideal of a Europe that works better when it builds together, if you'll excuse the sloganeering. In its own smaller, grittier way, it is as vibrant as London or New York, and every bit as intelligent.
Yet its darker realities in their own parochial way epitomize everything that has gone wrong on a Continental scale within the European Union. The capital of a country divided among itself between Flemish and Walloon aspirations, Brussels has 19 municipal mayors - nineteen! -- creating what German publication Der Spiegel calls a "tangle of bureaucracy" that makes a muddle of basic policing, and helps perhaps explain why the capital of Europe has become the European capital of jihad. Take the view of former FBI and U.S. Army counter-terrorism official Clint Watts, quoted today by CNBC:

"'It is hard to conceive that this would happen on such a large scale when it was so obvious that these guys were operating there,' Watts said of ISIS. ‘After [Abdeslam's] arrest, you would have to assume everyone in the network was preparing to launch whatever they had.'
"‘After the Paris attacks, it was a question of not being able to run all the leads down,' Watts said. After Tuesday, "It's no longer a capacity problem, it's a competency problem.'"
So who does one blame, as the new normal sets in? Some will blame lax security measures, and cry for more enforcement. Some will blame the lack of earnest dialogue on immigration and integration, pointing the finger at failed policies decades old. Perhaps it's the fault of the refugee crisis, or of the inability to track the flow of fighters between Europe and the Middle East. Maybe the neglect and marginalization of immigrant groups will be part of the conversation.

Brussels Attacks, What Europe Can No Longer Deny

March 24, 2016
This article first appeared in Le Monde.
PARIS - This time, it's Brussels, the heart of Europe, that was hit by Islamist terrorists. They targeted this free city, where humor, impertinence, a Belgian way of not taking yourself too seriously, is the opposite of what these barbarians have in mind: cheap certainties, hatred towards others, the violence of the "pure." The deadly jumble of ideas driving these European-born jihadists is the polar opposite of what cosmopolitan Brussels, the capital city of a European project that was their symbolic target, stands for.
Every time it occurs, this not-so-blind violence takes us by surprise. It shouldn't. After Madrid, after London, after Paris, twice, and now Brussels, we know. We cannot ignore that terrorism is here to stay. To say so is not to play the doomsayer nor the sorcerer's apprentice. It's the reality we need to face: The battle against jihadism will be a long one.
This assessment isn't intended as a smear campaign against the police or the intelligence services' work. Each terrorist cell dismantled, each arrest, like that of Salah Abdeslam in Brussels last week, represents an only natural sense of relief. The strength of democratic societies lies in their ability to go on as "before." By doing so, they thwart the jihadists' ambitions to provoke reprisal attacks against European Muslims and to create as many mini-civil wars as possible in Europe.
We shouldn't, however, harbor illusions. It's going to take time, years, before we defeat jihadist terrorism. In healthy democracies, political leaders and governments should tell it like it is. They don't, and are therefore hiding part of the truth.

Easy answers are lies
There's no magical recipe and no easy solution, two things we're used to having in our impatient, consumer-driven societies.
Those among protest parties or candidates - from the National Front here in France to Donald Trump, and others - who pretend otherwise are irresponsible liars. They're playing with the victims' pain. To say that we only need to flatten ISIS-controlled cities in Syria and Iraq with bombs is absurd, as this would instead create more wannabe jihadists. To say, as Marine Le Pen's National Front does, that we only need to close borders inside the EU to put an end to European jihadism, is a simplistic hoax. Weapons and explosives have been proliferating in our countries for a long time, while user manuals circulate on the Internet. We don't need any seller of illusions in this ongoing fight.
We should instead acknowledge the situation's complexity, on two levels. ISIS has in all likelihood forged sophisticated logistical networks inside Europe, with the aim of carrying out simultaneous attacks in different European cities. No mollycoddling here: The fight requires increased means for the police and intelligence services. Efficiency calls for reinforced coordination at a European level. Alas, the Union, already unable to unite in the face of the migrant tragedy, is in a regressive phase, which makes it even more vulnerable.
But European jihadism, though it stems from endogenous causes, is also fuelled by Middle Eastern chaos. To extinguish terrorism at home, we need to solve the Syrian and Iraqi tragedies. Again, this will probably take years. Again, although Westerners share part of the blame for these ongoing troubles, Europe is nowhere to be seen in fixing them, barely an actor alongside the U.S. and Russia. Its incompetence is evident in its lack of strategic vision, in the Middle East and elsewhere. This only adds to its vulnerability.

For our continent, the battle against terrorism means first facing the truth.