15 September 2016



Through the eyes of a master hacker turned security expert, William Langewiesche chronicles the rise of the Dark Net—where weapons, drugs, and information are bought, sold, and hacked—and learns how high the stakes have really become. 


His name is not Opsec, but I will call him that to guard his privacy. In webspace he is known as a grand master of the dark art of hacking. He is one of a small elite—maybe a hundred, maybe fewer—all of whom are secretive and obsessed with security. They do not talk about their work with their families. They generally do not talk to the press. Nonetheless, through friends of friends, Opsec agreed to speak and to introduce me to his perspectives. In “meatspace,” as he and others like him call the real world, Opsec lives in a metropolitan area in a little wooden house by a railroad track. He is in his mid-30s, physically imposing, and not a geek. He hangs out in a local bar, where the regulars know vaguely that he works with computers. 

He is a fast talker when he’s onto a subject. His mind seems to race most of the time. Currently he is designing an autonomous system for detecting network attacks and taking action in response. The system is based on machine learning and artificial intelligence. In a typical burst of words, he said, “But the automation itself might be hacked. Is the A.I. being gamed? Are you teaching the computer, or is it learning on its own? If it’s learning on its own, it can be gamed. If you are teaching it, then how clean is your data set? Are you pulling it off a network that has already been compromised? Because if I’m an attacker and I’m coming in against an A.I.-defended system, if I can get into the baseline and insert attacker traffic into the learning phase, then the computer begins to think that those things are normal and accepted. I’m teaching a robot that ‘It’s O.K.! I’m not really an attacker, even though I’m carrying an AK-47 and firing on the troops.’ And what happens when a machine becomes so smart it decides to betray you and switch sides?” 

*** The Middle East Since 9/11

Jacob L. Shapiro
Sept. 12, 2016 

The region has changed significantly following the attacks 15 years ago.

Yesterday marked 15 years since Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, the U.S. and other forces have waged almost constant war in the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam and civilization itself. On Sept. 11, we pause and remember where we were that day and what we were thinking. That is altogether appropriate. However, it is also appropriate to consider how the map of the Middle East has changed since 9/11. Maps are useful tools, but they can be dangerous because they lock patterns into your mind that may not be accurate. The only way to counter this is to force yourself to look at things from a different perspective. To do this, we have created two maps of the Middle East: one of the region on Sept. 11, 2001 and another of the region on Sept. 11, 2016. 

Osama bin Laden had one great goal in mind for al-Qaida, and it wasn’t simply to kill Americans. For bin Laden, attacks like 9/11 were a means to an end. Bin Laden really sought to transform the Islamic world from within by insurrection. He came from a wealthy Saudi family, and when he looked at this map, he saw sclerotic regimes, indulgent dictators and a society in a general state of collapse. The once-proud heirs of the Prophet Muhammed’s revelation had been turned into pawns in the Cold War and had imbibed foreign ideals – first nationalism, then socialism, then petty authoritarianism. And now they were weak and ignorant of their own traditions, and bin Laden hoped to change this.

*** China's Military Looks to the Sky

September 12, 2016

Airborne forces will complement China's strategic military needs. 
China will continue to invest in the development of its airborne forces. 

To enhance their effectiveness, Beijing will focus on upgrading the firepower and strategic mobility of its airborne forces. 


China is broadening its military horizons. The country is pursuing its global interests more proactively, driving its military to focus on becoming a more international presence as part of its "active defense" doctrine. As China extends its reach and expands its efforts to defend its interests around the world, the country has had to rely on branches of its armed forces beyond the army, traditionally the dominant branch. To that end, Beijing has poured money into developing its naval and air power and overhauling and modernizing its command and control structure. At the same time, it has worked to enhance its airborne forces.
Meeting a Strategic Need

Beijing's focus on cultivating its airborne forces reflects its strategic needs. China is one of the largest countries in the world, and its borders contain vast swaths of remote territory. Furthermore, since the country is surrounded by potential flashpoints, from its disputed borders with India to its potentially explosive border with North Korea, Beijing can never be sure where its next crisis will erupt. China depends on flexible and mobile forces that can quickly deploy wherever needed, whether to counter an armed invasion or respond to a natural disaster. Airborne forces, which are lightly equipped, well trained and highly mobile, are uniquely suited to that role. Outside the Chinese mainland, China's airborne forces will probably take on a prominent role in managing problems in proximate areas such as the South China Sea or Taiwan. In addition, as China hones its power projection capabilities, airborne forces could prove useful for global missions, such as peacekeeping activities in Africa, evacuation operations and long-range counterterrorism missions.

** The Middle East Since 9/11

By Jacob L. Shapiro 
Sept. 12, 2016 

The region has changed significantly following the attacks 15 years ago. 

Yesterday marked 15 years since Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, the U.S. and other forces have waged almost constant war in the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam and civilization itself. On Sept. 11, we pause and remember where we were that day and what we were thinking. That is altogether appropriate. However, it is also appropriate to consider how the map of the Middle East has changed since 9/11. Maps are useful tools, but they can be dangerous because they lock patterns into your mind that may not be accurate. The only way to counter this is to force yourself to look at things from a different perspective. To do this, we have created two maps of the Middle East: one of the region on Sept. 11, 2001 and another of the region on Sept. 11, 2016. 

Osama bin Laden had one great goal in mind for al-Qaida, and it wasn’t simply to kill Americans. For bin Laden, attacks like 9/11 were a means to an end. Bin Laden really sought to transform the Islamic world from within by insurrection. He came from a wealthy Saudi family, and when he looked at this map, he saw sclerotic regimes, indulgent dictators and a society in a general state of collapse. The once-proud heirs of the Prophet Muhammed’s revelation had been turned into pawns in the Cold War and had imbibed foreign ideals – first nationalism, then socialism, then petty authoritarianism. And now they were weak and ignorant of their own traditions, and bin Laden hoped to change this.

Al-Qaida didn’t have the power to do this single handedly. And so al-Qaida attacked the United States, hoping to create a rallying cry in the Muslim world not just against the West but against the Western-sympathizing dictators who had steered the Arab Muslim world to this disastrous place. In total, 2,977 people died on 9/11 – but from al-Qaida’s point of view, 9/11 was initially a failure. The U.S. punished Afghanistan and the Taliban, but Afghanistan was on the periphery of al-Qaida’s fight. Al-Qaida hoped to draw the U.S. into the heart of the Middle East, and at first the U.S. didn’t take the bait.

Indo-US Defense Cooperation in the Wake of Sino-Pak Nexus

By Bharat Lather
13 Sep , 2016

India occupies one of the most strategically important locations in the world. A short distance from the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, India has been an important hub for ideas, trade and religion for thousands of years. Unfortunately, that geographic positioning has its disadvantages. India is faced on two sides by powerful, nuclear-armed countries with which it has fought wars with—China and Pakistan. India’s most formidable rival and a long term threat is China, with whom it fought a short, sharp border war in 1962 which resulted in a debacle for the Indian army.

The PLA’s weapons development and procurement efforts have also focused on developing the ability to implement informationized warfighting strategies like anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) to counter US and its allies.

China’s growing military has transformed it from a mainly ground-based threat to a multifaceted one with powerful assets in the air, at sea and even in space. Furthermore, the December 2015 promotion of the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) to a full military branch, and the creation of a Strategic Support Force (PLASSF)—which will focus on space and cyber as well as the creation of 5 joint theatre commands also indicate that strategic priorities of the PLA have shifted to information-based joint warfare, and an emphasis on technology while being able to fight the full spectrum of conflicts from irregular to strategic warfare. The PLA has also shifted its focus away from the historically dominant ground forces and towards bolstering the Navy (PLAN) and Air Force (PLAAF). The PLA’s weapons development and procurement efforts have also focused on developing the ability to implement informationized warfighting strategies like anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) to counter US and its allies.

Now, the PLA possesses numerous ballistic missiles from short range to ICBM’s, the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missiles (DF-21D), an array of air, land, and sea launched cruise missiles, and extremely strong air defenses (S-300PMU2, S-400, HQ-7, HQ-16, and HQ-9). Additionally, Chinese space capabilities have grown from 10 satellites in 2000 to 181 in 2016.

Irrationality Making Kashmir An Unstable Plateau

By Brig Narender Kumar (Retd.)
13 Sep , 2016

John Maynard Keynes said, “There is nothing so disastrous as a rational strategy in an irrational world.” The turn of events put in place by Pakistan hints at dangerous consequences over Kashmir. Pakistan has been able to take the Kashmir conflict to a stage where reversal will not be easy. It is clear that that Pakistan has given it new twist and made it look like an indigenous uprising and denial is only self-deluding. India looked at proxy war from a rational security point of view but what Pakistan has done is that it has waged proxy war by being irrational and unpredictable. India is fighting proxy war with regulars whereas Pakistan has employed irregulars effectively. 

Considering the inherent superiority of defensive warfare Clausewitz stated that, “habitual aggressors are likely to end up as failures”. But India also forgot to take note of what Clausewitz further said that, “inherent superiority of the defence obviously does not mean that the defender will always win”. Therefore, a purely defensive strategy without aggression is unlikely to guarantee defeat of adversary. The efforts to make Pakistan pay the price of proxy war are at best inconsistent and not hurting Pakistan enough militarily or economically. Adoption of a high moral ground is being perceived by Pakistan as sign of weakness or absence of leverage.

Pakistan has been able to create a perception among the people and international community that there is indeed a freedom struggle going on in Kashmir. The unrest and revolt against the state especially in Kashmir Valley is today at critical stage and cannot be brushed aside in a hope that turmoil will settle down. To believe that India by employment of security forces will be able to handle the crises in Kashmir is being economic with the truth. Kashmir has reached a critical stage where only extraordinary steps can prevent its trajectory to a point of no return. Longer the security forces remain a tool of stability, faster it will degenerate into major chaos; because the fear of gun no longer appears relevant to the Awam in Kashmir.

Signature of Storm

India-Myanmar: Reciprocal State Visits Reinforce Ties

By Obja Borah Hazarika
11 Sep , 2016

Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw paid a state visit to India on August 27-30, 2016. The visit was on the invitation of Pranab Mukherjee, President of India. This visit followed close on the heels of the visit by the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Myanmar on August 22. The visit by the President of Myanmar was the first state visit by Htin Kyaw after the assumption of office by the new government in Myanmar in March 2016.The Myanmar president was accompanied by his wife, Daw Su Su Lwin, several key ministers and senior officials. During his visit to India, the Myanmar president had official engagements in New Delhi and also visited places of historical and cultural importance in India. 

A range of bilateral, regional and international issues including border security and management, bilateral trade, insurgency and connectivity were discussed during the visits of Swaraj to Myanmar and the President of Myanmar to India. During the president’s visit both sides agreed to continue to support dialogue along existing mechanisms, which includes border liaison meetings, Heads of Survey Department meeting, Foreign Office consultations, Joint Consultative Commission, Joint Trade Committee, and Regional Border Committee among others. They took stock of the ongoing development cooperation initiatives being undertaken with assistance from India, including in the areas of connectivity and capacity building, health and education infrastructure, agriculture, information technology, industrial training, and training programmes.

Some of the important agreements signed during the president’s visit includes the MoU on cooperation in the construction of 69 Bridges including approach roads in the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa road section of the trilateral highway in Myanmar’ MoU on cooperation in the construction / upgradation of the Kalewa – Yagyi road section; MoU on cooperation in the field of renewable energy and an MoU on cooperation in the field of traditional systems of medicine.

If Modi Wants More Disclosures Of Black Money, He Must Rattle The Realty Market

September 12, 2016, 

The government’s latest voluntary disclosure scheme for undisclosed incomes appears to be heading for as underwhelming an outcome as last year’s scheme to ferret out undeclared foreign assets and incomes. 

Unless black money hoarders believe that the government is going to come down like a tonne of bricks, many may still chose to remain silent.

Modi needs to force cuts in housing costs in states ruled by his own party, and use the black money law to rattle the market.

The government’s latest voluntary disclosure scheme for undisclosed incomes – the deadline for which ends on 30 September – appears to be heading for as underwhelming an outcome as last year’s scheme to ferret out undeclared foreign assets and incomes.

If last year’s scheme ended up with just 638 voluntary disclosures of Rs 4,147 crore, resulting in a tax collection of Rs 2,488 crore, in the ongoing scheme to give domestic evaders a chance to come clean, the disclosures till mid-August seem to add up to a piffling Rs 4,000 crore, Business Standard reports. At 45 percent tax, the tax yield will be less than Rs 2,000 crore on this disclosure – peanuts.

However, it is early days yet, and most people intending to disclose their black incomes tend to wait till the final days – when clarifications from the tax authorities tend to come thick and fast. So, this scheme will not be the kind of flop the earlier one was. However, Business Standard says the government had hoped for declarations of upto Rs 1,00,000 crore in order to collect nearly Rs 45,000 crore in additional taxes. That hope looks distant now, given that only 18 days remain till the deadline.

Vivekananda’s Chicago Address-Another 9/11 The World Shouldn’t Forget

September 12, 2016

Fifteen years ago, on this day, two hijacked aircraft crashed into the North and the South towers of the World Trade Center in New York. 

But there was another 9/11, 108 years ago, that preceded this event. Swami Vivekananda addressed the western world at the Parliament of World’s Religions held in Chicago on September 11, 1893.

He taught the world that the underlying message of all religions are the same, and service to mankind is the most effective form of worship of God.

There were two major incidents that happened on 9/11 in America. The recent one was a terror attack in 2001. Fifteen years ago, on this day, two hijacked aircraft crashed into the North and the South towers of the World Trade Center in New York. The third hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense. The fourth hijacked plane crashed into a field in Stonycreek in Pennsylvania. It was an event that shook America and startled the world. The coordinated terror attacks were executed by the Islamic terror organisation, al-Qaeda. The terror strikes snuffed out the lives of around 3,000 innocent people.

But there was another 9/11, 108 years ago, that preceded this event. The event was in far sharp contrast from the previous one. A Hindu monk stormed the bastion of the so-called superiority of western world at the Parliament of World’s Religions held in Chicago on11th September 1893.

The Return of Limited War

September 13, 2016

Limited war is a topic covered heavily in military discussions since World War II. It is often touted as the diametric opposite of total war, where a nation or society dedicates all of their resources to defeat an enemy.[1] However, the world has changed, and so has limited war. In the modern era, combat systems from ships to planes have become so expensive that they are pushing states to a form of limited war that has not been the norm since before Napoleon. It is these financial costs, more so than the toll in lives, that will dictate future warfare.


Limited wars have always existed and states have often applied a portion of their full effort to achieve a goal that was less important than the state’s survival. For example, the survival of the Roman Empire under Augustus did not rely on the conquering of Germania, but the legions fought and died there none-the-less.[2] The concepts of limited and total war took on new meaning with the advent of the nuclear age, because total war in the modern era meant an unacceptable level of destruction in all but the biggest conflicts.

The Korean War is considered a limited war because Truman and later Eisenhower refused to allow the conflict to escalate with direct conventional or nuclear attacks on Chinese soil. They limited U.S. involvement to a level they considered acceptable.[3] The remainder of the 20th century saw a series of limited wars fought by the United States from Vietnam to Iraq. The concept has become a valid manner in which to view wars with goals that are less than the total destruction of the enemy. Objectives and outcomes were limited, particularly in Vietnam, in part because the human toll of a total war were considered too high.[4]

The real reason behind RIL-ONGC dispute

September 13, 2016

Dispute resolution provisions in the production sharing contract remained unimplemented, while the regulator faltered, points out Jyoti Mukul.

While the Ajith Prakash Shah Committee report on migration of natural gas from Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC)’s block in the Krishna-Godavari basin to the adjacent field owned by Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) helped in resolving the dispute partially, it also flagged the lack of regulatory mechanism in the high-stake upstream sector.

The Shah panel points to three articles in the production sharing contract (PSC) signed by RIL and its partners with the government. These deal with situations where a reservoir extends outside the designated area for an operator.

What festered the dispute

It took 3 years to acknowledge the dispute

RIL and ONGC did not pursue joint development in overlapping fields

DGH, the sector regulator, said dispute resolution was outside its domain

These provisions lay buried in PSC, not only because the two firms lacked consensus on whether the natural gas was migrating, but also because the regulatory oversight mechanism, in the form of management committee established by the contract, overlooked the dispute.

Pakistan's Next Army Chief: Nawaz Sharif’s Hobson’s Choice

Selection of the next army chief will be one of the key focuses of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who has the distinction of having selected five of the last nine chiefs as a three-time Prime Minister of the country. Sharif has also been unlucky having personally selected Pervez Musharraf who went on to depose him in a coup in 1999. Musharraf also ordered a highly risky gamble of intrusion in Jammu and Kashmir in Kargil the same year which had brought much egg on the face of Sharif internationally. Nawaz Sharif’s most recent choice namesake though no relation General Raheel Sharif has also not been favourably disposed towards the Prime Minister.

He has pursued his course, has been more visible than Nawaz and after the crucial Panama Papers expose made a statement calling for all those involved in corruption to face public scrutiny. Relations between the Prime Minister’s Office and the GHQ have thus not been very favourable.

Thus Nawaz Sharif will remain extremely wary in the selection of the next army chief depending on some factors – smooth, civil military relations, commitment to professionalism, someone unlikely to stage a coup and management of regional relations, particularly with India. He will depend on the feedback from some advisers including brother Shahbaz Sharif and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar amongst others. The choice before Sharif will be from four top generals as indicated in Table below who have had a variety of exposures making them suitable for the post.

Lt Gen Zubair Hayat Chief of General Staff

Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed Commander II Corps Multan

Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday Commander XXXI Corps Bahawalpur

Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa Inspector General Training & Evaluation

[Source – Dawn Pakistan]

New dynamic in the north west

September 13, 2016

With Afghanistan seeking a stronger security partnership with India, Delhi must evaluate the strategic opportunities and risks.

PM Narendra Modi and Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. Express Photo

Two years ago, when he became the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani accorded special emphasis on normalising relations with Pakistan. As he went out of the way to seek reconciliation with the Pakistan army, there was much anguish in Delhi’s strategic community.

This week, as Ghani visits India to seek a stronger security partnership, Delhi must avoid any needless elation. Delhi understood the virtues of strategic patience in Afghanistan, two years ago, knowing that the contradictions between Kabul and Rawalpindi are irreconcilable. As the wheel turns full circle now, it must appreciate the value of political prudence and a careful balancing of the emerging strategic opportunities and risks in Afghanistan.

Post-Partition geography has shaped the roles of Pakistan and India in Afghanistan. If a shared border ensures an enduring role for Pakistan, India is a natural partner for Kabul as the “neighbour’s neighbour” — and the “once neighbour”. There is no way that Delhi can trump Rawalpindi’s huge strategic advantages in Afghanistan; nor can Pakistan simply wish away India’s role in its turbulent western neighbourhood.

Reconciliation with Pakistan was a strategic necessity for Ghani when he came to power in September 2014. He understood that no government in Kabul can succeed without a modus vivendi with Pakistan. The 2,500 km open border, the Durand Line, and a large Pashtun population in Pakistan, many of whom share economic links with their kin across the border, have long allowed Rawalpindi to destabilise Afghanistan with impunity. A non-hostile Pakistan remains the key to Afghanistan’s stability.

There Is No Military Path to Victory in Afghanistan

September 12, 2016 

Fifteen years of fighting and trillions of dollars has not produced success.

Few will say it, but the facts are indisputable: America’s war in Afghanistan has failed. There comes a time when persisting in a lost cause amounts to foolishness, indeed irresponsibility. That time has arrived.

Washington’s minimal goals were to vanquish the Taliban, root out Al Qaeda and build a stable, effective government whose army and police would eventually fight the Taliban independently and successfully while maintaining law and order across the land. These objectives have not been meet.

Not for want of effort, mind you. The evidence leaves no doubt that the United States has made an enormous effort.

Let’s begin with the investment in time.

Nearly fifteen years and counting, the war in Afghanistan has become America’s longest. Airstrikes against the Taliban government, undertaken along with the British, commenced in October 2001. American ground troops, 1,300 in number, arrived there in November 2001. By 2010, there were one hundred thousand. A steady cutback started in 2011, pursuant to a decision by President Obama, though some 9,800 still remain, despite the responsibility for fighting the Taliban and securing the country having been transferred to the Afghans in June 2013.

United Against Terror: India Backs Bangladesh’s War Against Genocidal Islamists

September 10, 2016

India has backed the judicial process under the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh to address the pending issue of justice for war crimes.

India has backed Bangladesh’s efforts to prosecute those behind the 1971 East Pakistan genocide.

This move comes after Bangladesh hanged to death Mir Quasem Ali, 63, a leading financier of the Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami. He was found guilty of war crimes by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) which was set up in 2009 to prosecute those involved in the 1971 East Pakistan genocide. The tribunal has convicted over a dozen individuals including nine high-profile leaders of the Jamaat. At least five of them have been hanged, with every execution seeing a frenzy of rioting and violence orchestrated by the Jamaat.

Pakistan army, which was directly involved in the genocide that resulted in the death of millions of innocent civilians, has come out strongly in protest. The country’s parliament even passed a resolution condemning the ICT trials. This is understandable as at least one of the convicted criminals is said to be hiding in that country. Moreover, many other Pakistani armed forces personnel, who directly took part in the genocide, are today in Pakistan. Bangladesh has been unable to put them on trial.

With India-Pakistan relations deteriorating in the recent past New Delhi has finally come out in support of the ICT.

North Korea’s Weapons

By George Friedman 
Sept. 13, 2016 

Pyongyang has launched more nuclear tests but it has a long way to go before developing a nuclear weapon. 

Recent weeks have seen the North Koreans launching missiles from submarines and, this weekend, testing another nuclear device, apparently the largest one they have tested to date. There are two questions to be answered. First, how significant are these tests militarily? Second, what are North Korea’s political intentions in launching the tests? The military capability comes before the political intention, since capability defines what is possible. The tendency of analysts to reverse the order has always puzzled me, save that understanding the capability is harder than speculating on political intent.

We know that the North Koreans have acquired both land-based and submarine-based missiles. The range of the former appears to include all of the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The range of the latter is uncertain. The range matters of course because it determines the targets that are at risk. Since the North Koreans have launched a satellite, at least some of the missiles must be robust enough to reach escape velocity and the satellite must be orbiting something. They have reached the threshold of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile, but have not clearly gone beyond that level.

We do not know very much about a critical element: the guidance system. Some rockets, like the Scud, have no guidance system. You fire the rocket and wait to find out where it lands. Advanced nuclear countries have superb guidance systems that allow missiles to strike within meters of the target. The difference between a rocket and a missile is that the latter has a guidance system. This is needed to attack missile silos that are extremely protected against a blast. 

China’s Mythification as Superpower by United States Fades

By Dr Subhash Kapila
13 Sep , 2016

Perceptionaly, United States mythification of China as a potential Superpower seems to have lasted as long as China confined itself to use of ‘Soft Power’ strategies to gain influence in Asia Pacific. The switch to ‘Hard Power’ under President Xi Jinping from 2012 signalled the end of America’s ‘China Dream’.

United States ‘China Dream’ focussed on co-opting China as a responsible stakeholder in Asia Pacific stability and this American dream pushed the United States at times to trample over the strategic sensitivities of Japan and India, the two Asian Powers on which in 2016 the United States relies heavily to emerge as strategic counterweights to China. Regrettably, like all dreams which stand divorced from reality, the ‘China Dream’ of the United States seems to have faded away as China under its current President started baring its fangs arising from its massive and threatening military build-up.

In the run-up to 2016, many in the American strategic community in their writings started drawing parallels and compared China’s not so benign military rise to rise of Nazi Germany under Hitler in the mid-1930s onwards and which emboldened Nazi Germany to challenge the existing international order leading to the Second World War.

Like Nazi Germany then, China today under President Xi Jinping in the pursuance of his grandiose “Chinese Dream” has ridden roughshod over with aggressive military brinkmanship over its neighbours stretching from the High Himalayas to the Seas of East Asia. The South China Sea conflict-escalation by China is a notable and glaring example of China’s footprints to come in the coming decades.

An Australian "China Choice"? No. But Multiple China Choices, Yes.

September 11, 2016

A senior U.S. Army officer recently generated headlines on both sides of the Pacific by highlighting the strategic and economic challenges facing Australia today. Keen to maintain close ties with both their American ally and their chief economic partner in China, Australian officials are today conscious of the potential tensions that lie ahead.

According to Col. Tom Hanson, the time has come for Australians “to make a choice.” The Assistant Chief of Staff at U.S. Army Pacific, Hanson noted that “it’s very difficult to walk this fine line between balancing the alliance with the United States and the economic engagement with China,” adding that “there’s going to have to be a decision as to which one is more of a vital national interest for Australia.”

A Pentagon spokesperson immediately dismissed the comments as personal views and stressed that “the idea that Australia, or any country” needs to choose between the United States and China “presents a false choice.”

Yet the notion that there is a looming “China choice” facing Australia is gathering support among portions of its strategic elite. Some foreign policy leaders hold that, faced with such a dilemma, their country should double down on the U.S. alliance, whatever the economic costs. Others believe that Canberra would do well to be on better terms with Beijing in light of its trade and investment, China’s regional ascendance, and doubts about American staying power in Asia. And still others advocate a more neutral Australian course in the future, neither aligning with China nor signing up for every American effort to resist Beijing’s assertiveness.

China is Dominating Scarborough Shoal. Here's Why It Matters.

September 12, 2016 

Scarborough Shoal is a settled issue. Not in a good way and not just as a result of Philippines President Duterte’s “ready, fire, aim” approach to statesmanship. It matters not if China builds new facilities there on yet more coral dredged from the seabed. Since the Shoal came to public prominence in 2012 following the Philippine arrest of Chinese fishermen it has been dominated by China’s Maritime Militias. This non-military state-controlled force, along with the ships of China’s Coast Guard, so effectively control the area that even the Philippine government advised its fishermen to avoid this traditional Philippine fishing area.

U.S. military forces, Navy carrier battle groups and Air Force aircraft, flying, sailing and operating wherever international law allows, do not affect who fishes these waters. The Philippine maritime auxiliary and coast guard forces—such as they are—cannot compete with the large state-supported fishing fleet and the Maritime Militia. Echoing the famous eunuch Muslim conscript Admiral Zheng He’s voyages, China’s masterful use of “Gray Zone Conflict” methods—operations between the traditional notions of war and peace – moot our military presence and vastly overawe maritime law enforcement assets of other South China Sea nations. The Philippines’ long neglect of such assets makes them particularly challenged.

A Crystallizing Russo-Chinese Alliance

September 9, 2016

Vladimir Putin with Xi Jinping (Source: RT)

Whenever a Russian president travels to Asiatic Russia or the Asia-Pacific region, he traditionally enunciates important precepts of Russian foreign policy in Asia. This was true of both Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin during all three of his presidential terms. Putin’s recent trip to the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, was no exception. His comments on Russia’s foreign relations with regard to the South China Sea, Korea and Japan were all enlightening and revealing of new trends in Russian foreign policy. 

In regard to the tense issue of control over the South China Sea, Putin told journalists, on September 5, that President Xi Jinping never asked him to comment on this topic or intervene (which does not mean that the Chinese government has not spoken to Russia about it). But the Russian leader then went out of his way to state that not only does his country not interfere, it opposes any involvement by a power from outside the region on the issue of the South China Sea. In other words, he supports China’s position that the United States has no business being present here, despite the expressed support by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for that presence (Kremlin.ru, September 5). Furthermore, Putin endorsed China’s defiance of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s rulings against Chinese maritime territorial claims based on its “Nine Dash Line.” He told reporters, “as the Hague Arbitration Court and its ruling are concerned, we agree with and support China’s position to not recognize the court’s ruling” (Kremlin.ru, September 5). Here again, the Russian president’s words imply complete support of Beijing’s position, far beyond anything ever stated in the past by any Russian official—either for China, or against the ASEAN and the US. 

A String of Intrigues on Putin’s Eastern Tour

September 7, 2016

President Vladimir Putin with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping 

The G20 summit in Hangzhou, China (September 4–5), was not expected to produce major news in global governance. But for Russian President Vladimir Putin, it opened a unique opportunity to assert his place among top world leaders. His press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, assured that Russia would not accept any conditions for returning to the G7 (thus turning it back into the G8), because it is “quite satisfied” with the broader G20 format (RBC, August 31). Russia had little to contribute to the substance of the proceedings in Hangzhou, which ranged from stimulating economic growth to sustaining efforts at containing climate change; but Putin definitely did not want to be seen as a supernumerary. The Kremlin had taken pains to spin several high-stakes intrigues, which compelled many key participants—from British Prime Minister Theresa May to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—to schedule separate meetings with the Russian head of state. These talks yielded little fruit, but what matters for Putin is reinforcing the impression of his “indispensable” role in international affairs. 

The crudest of these intrigues was launched in mid-August in Crimea, where Russian special services staged an awkward provocation camouflaged as a “terrorist incursion” (Kommersant, August 17). Putin condemned the Ukrainian leadership for resorting to “tactics of terror” and ordered massive snap military exercises featuring the deployment of a combat-ready grouping of forces in the southwestern “theater” (Gazeta.ru, August 31). He also announced that further negotiations on the implementation of the deadlocked Minsk agreement made no sense and would be discontinued (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 16). European leaders were alarmed with that sudden escalation of the conflict, which had never been safely “frozen,” and insisted on continuing the dialogue (Carnegie.ru, August 12). Putin agreed to have meetings in Hangzhou with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, assuming that such talks amounted to an achievement of his old proposition—discussing Ukraine without Ukraine. 

The Maritime Silk Road China's High Seas Ambitions

With its Maritime Silk Road, China is tapping the world's oceans for its own strategic purposes. It's a bold plan that is causing unease in India and the United States -- and also has implications for Europe.

The powerful Yangtze River winds its way for more than 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) through China, from the barren highlands of Tibet to the densely populated plains on the east coast where, shortly before it flows into the Pacific, a large waterway forks off. It is the Huangpu, Shanghai's river. 

Ships carrying ore, cement and coal, freighters loaded with containers and loose cargo toil their way up the Huangpu until, at its tightest turn, one of China's most spectacular vistas opens up before them: to the left, the skyscrapers of the Pudong financial district; to the right, the palatial buildings and towers along the Bund, the historic Shanghai waterfront promenade.

Yan Jun, the 56-year-old head of the Port of Shanghai, resides on the 20th floor of one of these towers. He likes to take first-time guests to the next floor up, to the hall where executives of his company, the Shanghai International Port Group, usually meet. Inside the room is a massive, 10-meter long wooden table made out of planks from old quay walls; in front of the window is a globe as high as a person.

If the trading and naval powerhouse of China had a single command bridge, it could be located here. And Yan Jun, a large, elegant man with a deep voice, would be its captain. China's major industrial provinces, with their megacities on the left and right banks of the lower Yangtze, are like the two wings of a dragon, he says, "and Shanghai is the dragon's head." No other port in the world delivers as many products to the global market as Shanghai. China exports goods valuing over $2 trillion a year.

15 Years After 9/11, Al Qaeda Is Still Around and Fighting

Thomas Joscelyn
September 12, 2016

Fifteen Years after the 9/11 Attacks, al Qaeda Fights On

All appeared lost for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in December 2001. In the years leading up to the 9/11 hijackings, bin Laden believed that the US was a “paper tiger” and would retreat from the Muslim majority world if al Qaeda struck hard enough. The al Qaeda founder had good reasons to think this. American forces withdrew from Lebanon after a series of attacks in the early 1980s and from Somalia after the “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993. The US also did not respond forcefully to al Qaeda’s August 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, or the USS Cole bombing in October 2000.

But bin Laden’s strategy looked like a gross miscalculation in late 2001. An American-led invasion quickly overthrew the Taliban’s regime just weeks after 19 of bin Laden’s men hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Some of al Qaeda’s most senior figures were killed in American airstrikes. With al Qaeda’s foes closing in, bin Laden ordered his men to retreat to the remote Tora Bora Mountains. Here, bin Laden must have thought, al Qaeda would make its last stand. The end was nigh.

Except it wasn’t.

Bin Laden slithered away, eventually making his way to Abbottabad, Pakistan. When Navy SEALs came calling more than nine years later, in early May 2011, the world looked very different.

Documents recovered in bin Laden’s compound reveal that he and his lieutenants were managing a cohesive global network, with subordinates everywhere from West Africa to South Asia. Some US intelligence officials assumed that bin Laden was no longer really active. But Bin Laden’s files demonstrated that this view was wrong.

How Does Jihadism End? Choosing Between Forever War and Nation Building

September 11, 2016

The United States spent trillions of dollars on counterterrorism, homeland security, security partnerships, and counterinsurgency campaigns over the past decade and a half. Yet jihadists still control large swaths of Iraq and Syria, regained the initiative in Afghanistan, opened new franchises in Libya and India, and launched successful attacks in Paris, Brussels, Orlando and Nice. Relatively successful homeland security measures in the United States have made it easy for Americans to overlook that there are more jihadist groups launching more attacks over a larger portion of the world than ever before. Fifteen years after the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, we do not have an answer to the question: How will jihadism end?

As early as 2005, Steve Biddle identified the basic options available to the United States in its fight against jihadist violence: containment or rollback. Containment is a less risky, less ambitious strategy to manage the problem by defending the homeland and preventing the spread of terrorism while forgoing any attempt to redress its underlying conditions. Rollback is the more ambitious and costlier effort not only to attack jihadist groups, but also to eliminate the social, political, and cultural conditions that give rise to them in the first place. These options have been well-known and understood for over a decade. In Afghanistan, for example, the Obama administration debated whether to pursue a leaner “counterterrorism-only” strategy narrowly targeted against al-Qaeda, or a more ambitious counterinsurgency effort to defeat the Taliban, as well.

For 15 years, U.S. policymakers have not implemented either strategy with consistency or coherence — rightly so, because neither option is fitting as a uniform global strategy. Both strategies carry unacceptable costs and risks, if applied worldwide irrespective of local and regional conditions. Containment is too cynical: It consigns entire regions to instability and violence, policed from the air by American drones, while raising walls around Fortress America at home. Rollback is too optimistic, naively pouring vast amounts of treasure into a crusade to keep America safe by converting the world to its civic religion of freedom.

The War Doctrine Israel Does Not Talk About

September 13, 2016

Editor’s Note: This is adapted from the author’s recently published article, “Israel’s Second War Doctrine,” [pdf] from the Institute for National Security Studies (Strategic Assessment; Vol. 19, No. 2, July 2016). 

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is renowned for its war doctrine: a succession of rapid decisive operations based on surprising combined arms offensives. In the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War, Israeli tanks broke world records in tempo in terms of miles penetrated per day (depth of offensive). Yet the IDF operated in a manner inconsistent with its official doctrine over the course of its last six major campaigns: Operation Accountability (1993), Operation Grapes of Wrath (1996), the Second Lebanon War (2006), Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), and Operation Protective Edge (2014). I call these six campaigns “accountability-rationale campaigns” (see Table 1).

I take this name from the original Operation Accountability campaign design in 1993, when Israel intervened in Lebanon to fight Hizballah. These six operations all sought to shape the future behavior of the adversary by striking a blow or causing attrition through firepower and by applying indirect levers, all while curtailing the allocation of resources and minimizing risk. In other words, the routine low intensity exchanges between the parties would become acceptable to one side or the other. Hence, that side decided to escalate to kinetically rewrite the rules of the post-conflict environment, where low intensity exchanges are routine. As Israel faced much weaker sub-state opponents with limited competencies, it implemented strategies that emphasized cost- and risk-management.


Russia Re-Emerges as a Great Power in the Middle East

September 12, 2016 

History has few examples of a weak power like Russia making so many gains against so powerful a country as the United States.

For the leader of an ex-global power whose economy is in disarray, Vladimir Putin is having a pretty good 2016. His ships sail the South China Sea, supporting China’s defiance of international law. The Japanese Prime Minister brushes Washington’s protests aside to meet with him. Putin’s Russia digs itself more thoroughly into Crimea each week, a Permanent Member of the Security Council in open and glaring violation of the UN Charter and its own pledged word. He’s watching the European Union grow weaker and less cohesive each day. And in Syria he forced the Obama administration to grovel for a ceasefire deal that leaves him, Putin, more in control than ever, and tacitly accepts his long term presence as a major player in the Middle East. Watching the State Department pursue its Syria negotiation with Russia was surreal: as if Robert E. Lee had to chase Ulysses Grant around Northern Virginia, waving a surrender document in his hands and begging Grant to sign it.

Putin may not have an economy, and his power projection capability may be held together with chicken wire and spit, but the delusions of his opponents have always been his chief tools. European and American leadership since the end of the Cold War has been operating on the false belief that geopolitics had come to an end; they have doubled down on that delusion as geopolitics came roaring back in the Obama years. In the past, Europe was able to take “holidays from history” because the United States was keeping an eye on the big picture. But that hasn’t been true in the Obama administration, and the juddering shocks of a destabilizing world order are the consequence of a foreign policy that isn’t grounded in the hard facts of power.

Our Russia Problem

SEPT. 10, 2016 

President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Moscow in July. Credit Pool photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev 

RUSSIA’S place in American politics used to be (relatively) simple. The further right you stood, the more you feared Ivan and his Slavic wiles. The further left, the more you likely thought the Red Menace was mostly just a scare story.

Now things are more complicated. In just 15 years, the Republican Party has had a president who famously claimed a soul-to-soul relationship with Vladimir Putin … followed by two consecutive nominees who took a starkly hawkish stance on Russia … and now a presidential candidate in Donald Trump who has a palpable man-crush on Putin and promises closer ties with his regime.

Over the same period, Democrats have gone from mocking George W. Bush’s naïveté about Putin … to mocking Mitt Romney for describing Russia as America’s main geopolitical foe … to spinning theories about Trump being an agent of Russian influence that seem ripped from a right-wing periodical circa 1955.

The ideologues, too, have lost the plot. Sean Hannity is hosting the Russian cat’s-paw Julian Assange because he might have dirt on Hillary. The Nation is defending Donald Trump against what it calls the “neo-McCarthyism” of mainstream liberalism. Team-player conservatives are tying themselves in knots explaining or defending Trump’s Putin crush; liberal pundits are trying to memory-hole everything they wrote about Romney and Russia in 2012.

Why an attack like 9/11 is much less likely today than it was in 2001

September 9, 2016

A fiery blasts rocks the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes September 11, 2001, in New York City.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On September 12, 2001, friends and family asked me, a terrorism expert, whether al-Qaeda would hit us again. Almost 15 years later, the same question hangs in the air, albeit with ISIS substituted for al-Qaeda.

Back in 2001, I predicted that another mass-casualty attack on the United States was likely. Thankfully, I was wrong. The fact is that, for a number of reasons, the US homeland today is safer than it was 15 years ago.

This does not mean the US homeland is immune to terrorism: Orlando and San Bernardino are only the latest reminders that terrorism remains a real concern.

But the total death toll of 94 people killed by jihadists since 9/11 is less than single mass-casualty attacks like the 2015 strikes in Paris (130 dead), the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (168 deaths), or the 1988 Lockerbie bombing (270 deaths), to say nothing of the almost 3,000 killed on 9/11.

Obviously, even 94 innocent people killed is far too many, but if we remember the post-9/11 doomsaying, it looks like an incredible success.