25 September 2016

** Troubling Times for Regional Stability in Russia

By Antonia Colibasanu

The Kremlin is searching for ways to hold the country together in the face of a struggling economy.

The Russian government announced yesterday that, considering the difficult fiscal environment, it plans to increase the use of interregional budget transfers to help poorer regions. Russian regions have seen their debt increasing during the last few years and have reached out to commercial banks for loans and bond issues to get cash and service some of their debt, even though Moscow has offered them cheap loans.

Russia’s vast geography has always been a challenge for its leaders. The country’s immense landmass is disproportionally populated because of its climate. Much of the Russian population lives north of the 50th parallel, which is even further north than Canada’s main population centers. This makes agricultural production scarce. Population density and urbanization rates are higher in the western regions, which have seen greater commercial development, considering their access to river routes. These factors have resulted in dramatic differences between rural and urban Russia and between western and eastern regions. These differences are highly problematic during times of economic crisis.

** The Decline of Austerity Politics

By Lili Bayer

More pressing issues have taken the place of belt-tightening.

In September 2011, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble wrote a piece in the Financial Times entitled “Why austerity is only cure for the eurozone.” But in reality, Schäuble’s stance was that austerity in southern Europe was the only cure acceptable for Germany – Europe’s largest economy and a major creditor, whose economy depends on the stability of the eurozone. However, there are now growing indications that Germany is being forced to shift its commitment to austerity. Several key factors are contributing to this evolution. Germany’s export crisis, lower interest rates, the refugee crisis and political changes across the Continent have led to a change in Germany’s constraints and priorities.

Over the past few years, the debate over austerity had serious implications for European politics. One of Germany’s top preoccupations was debt levels in some European economies. Berlin pushed some European governments, especially in southern Europe, to adopt harsh austerity measures. Southern European leaders have long fought against Berlin’s insistence on austerity.

** China, Germany and Sliding US Demand

By Lili Bayer

Declining U.S. demand for major exporters’ goods could spell disaster.

The world’s exporters are in turmoil. Over the past days, we learned that Chinese exports fell 2.8 percent in August compared to the same time last year, while Japanese exports declined 4.8 percent. German exports plummeted 10 percent year-over-year in July, while the European Union’s overall exports fell 2 percent between January and July compared to a year earlier. But this data does not come as a surprise: the world’s exporters are undergoing a major crisis, as economies that revolve around selling products abroad struggle to find buyers. But there is now reason to believe that the global economy is entering a new phase of export woes. U.S. demand for imports from some major economies is declining, thus threatening to further undermine the stability of already struggling exporters.

We have written extensively about the exporters’ crisis. In January, we ranked the top 10 victims of the crisis. Large exporters like China and major oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia topped the list.

The U.S. is not only the world’s largest economy, but also its biggest importer. The U.S. accounted for 14 percent of global imports in 2015. Demand in the U.S. for foreign goods is thus a key engine of economic growth elsewhere. In fact, troubles in the U.S. economy in large part sparked the exporters’ crisis. The crisis started in 2008, as economic problems in the U.S. and Europe led to reduced demand for goods. This slowdown in demand affected countries like China, which in turn bought fewer commodities. China’s slowdown has continued, and exporters of commodities like oil still grapple with low prices and sluggish demand.

* US-Israel Military Agreement holds little Promise for Middle East Peace

By Md. Muddassir Quamar
23 Sep , 2016

On September 14, 2016, the US and Israel signed a defence aid agreement worth USD 38 billion for ten year between 2019 and 2028. This is a USD 8 billion increase from the previous deal that that was signed in 2007 and ends in 2018; an increase of over 25 percent. It is a continuation of US military aid to Israel that has been the backbone of the bilateral relations since the establishment of Israel in 1948. In fact, Israel has been one of the biggest recipients of the US military aid since the World War II and the proportion further increased since the 1980s. As per the current agreement, Israel will receive an annual USD 3.8 billion in military supplies. 

The US and Israel entered into negotiations for the agreement in November 2015 and the talks were marred in tensions due to Israel’s opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal. Further President Barack Obama has been critical of Israel due to continued settlement constructions in the West Bank, which he termed as a serious impediment towards peace. Reports suggest that the Israeli side was looking for a bigger package to the tune of USD 45 billion but it could not materialize. The package includes USD 5 billion for the Israeli defense program and it also restricts Israel’s ability to lobby the Congress for additional aid above the agreed upon sum. In fact, in the previous years, Israel had received USD 500 million annually above the approved sum of USD 3 billion. Hence, analysts point that the actual increase in the amount is limited to USD 300 million annually.

The deal has significant implications for both US-Israel bilateral relations, Israel’s standing in the region and for the peace process and hence, for the peace process. It signifies that despite tensions and disagreement among the leadership on several issues the bilateral relations are steady and strong and continue to have a strong military component. The US will continue to ensure Israel’s security and will continue to fund Israel’s military and defense industry. What will change with this agreement is that gradually Israel will have to use the entire amount to buy military equipment from the US defense industry. Earlier it had the provision to use 26 percent of the funds for procuring military equipments from Israeli defense industry. Now that Israel has a robust defense industry, the US decided to stop indirect support for Israel’s defense industry. However, this will not seriously affect the industry that has now emerged as one of the major supplier of various military equipments to a number of countries including India.

For all of India's bluster, Pakistan still has every incentive to send militants across the border

The party that continues to pay the highest price for this grim pattern is, of course, the Kashmiri
If it sounds like we have been here before, it is because we have. Indeed, one of the more disquieting aspects of the latest episode of militant violence in Kashmir, and the ensuing tensions and war scares between India and Pakistan, is its Groundhog Day nature. The military and political patterns of Indo-Pak relations have observed a remarkable consistency since the turn of the century. To understand these patterns, we can begin from Uri’s aftermath, and work backwards.

After a high-level security meeting the morning after Sunday’s attack, the Indian government adopted a seemingly sober tone, cautioning against “knee-jerk” and “hasty action,” arguing instead that “action has to be taken without getting influenced by emotions, anger. It has to be taken coolly and with proper planning.” While the impulse towards prudence is to be applauded, it is also curious. Were members of the same ruling party, just 24 hours earlier, not claiming that “Pakistan is a terrorist state” and that “for one tooth, the complete jaw”?
Limited options

The drastic rhetorical climb-down was a result of cold reality setting in. After all the bluster, it is evident that India has no serious military options that can satisfy its political objectives – both with respect to Pakistan as well as a baying public – while also keeping the risk of nuclear war acceptably low. Cross-border raids, air strikes, and covert operations promise insufficient benefits given the attendant challenges and costs. The most likely of the various options being considered is the use of heavy artillery fire across the Line of Control aimed at Pakistani posts. However, such firing will not be a dramatic departure from the status-quo at the Line of Control, where skirmishes have taken place regularly since 2013.

This sense of being strait-jacketed into a non-response to Pakistan-based terror should be depressingly familiar to Indian decision-makers. After all, India finds itself in much the same situation as it did after Pathankot, Mumbai in 2008, and the 2001-’02 crisis following the attack on the Indian Parliament: anger at Pakistan, but little recourse beyond “isolating Pakistan”. The flexible array of coercive options that were supposed to accrue to India after it embarked on “Cold Start” doctrinal changes a decade-and-a-half ago have failed to materialise, mainly because of factors internal to Indian politics and bureaucracy as well as significant changes in Pakistan’s doctrines and defences in the last decade.
Opportunities for Pakistan army

Jihad In India: Time To Review, Re-Interpret And Understand – Analysis

By R. Upadhyay
SEPTEMBER 22, 2016

Some news reports in May last from Washington indicated that the terror group ISIS had launched a new propaganda video that showed off the Jihadists allegedly from India fighting against the Syrian forces in the Homs province.

This report has not been challenged and it is presumed that the Jihadi ideology of the terrrist organisation – the ISIS has also inspired a section of Indian Muslim youths to follow the short-cut route for a seat in Paradise.
Violent Jihad does not operate in a vacuum

Although, the number of such Jihadist Indians may not be much to cause any alarm, it certainly poses a question to the community in India as to t how and why some of their youths are motivated for joining the ISIS? This may not have been possible without any direct or indirect support within the community as well as without subtle infrastructure propagating the idea of Jihadi Islamism for restoration of the institution of Caliphate. Since violent ideology does not operate in vacuum and a fire requires oxygen to grow, the Jihadi-ideology too has perhaps a support base within the community. It is therefore the responsibility of the community to identify the source of oxygen so that the Jihadi fire does not swallow the community in the long run.

The Government of India must have certainly taken due cognizance of this propaganda piece of the ISIS, but in view of the increasing Islamic terror violence capturing the world landscape in general and India in particular, the Indian Ilamic community needs to do a thorough introspection on this vital issue. There has to be an intellectual exercise which unfortunately is lacking. There is an urgent need for the community to redefine the word Jihad and examine its true meaning in every sense of the word.

Germany charges man with spying for Indian intelligence

September 20, 2016

Germany charges man with spying for Indian intelligence

BERLIN (AP) — German authorities say they are charging a 58-year-old German citizen with espionage for allegedly passing confidential information to an Indian intelligence agency.

Federal prosecutors say the man, identified only by the initials T.S.P. in line with German privacy laws, worked at a local government office dealing with immigrants in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Prosecutors said in a statement Tuesday that the man used his access to government files to obtain and transmit information about “extremist Sikhs” and Indian opposition figures in Germany to the unidentified Indian agency.

The man has been detained since his arrest on Feb. 17.

Russian troops arrive in Pakistan for joint military exercise 'Friendship 2016'

The two-week drill, which begins tomorrow, indicates that both sides want to 'broaden defense and military-technical cooperation', a Pakistani envoy said.

Russian soldiers arrived in Pakistan on Friday for the first-ever joint military exercise between the two countries. Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa, the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations – the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces – confirmed the news on Twitter.

Pakistan's Ambassador to Russia Qazi Khalilullah had told a Russian news agency last week that the drill is an "obvious indication" that both sides want to "broaden defense and military-technical cooperation", according to IANS. Khalilullah confirmed to Pakistani daily The Express Tribune on Friday that the joint Pakistan-Russia military exercise – Friendship 2016 – will take place as scheduled from September 24 to October 7.

Not much is known about the drill, except that it will be conducted in "mountainous areas".

News of this military exercise comes days after it was reported that Russia had called off the drill in the wake of the attack on the Indian Army base in Kashmir's Uri sector, in which 18 soldiers were killed. India blames the terror strike on the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group.

A contingent of Russian ground forces arrived Pak for 1st ever Pak- Russian joint exercise (2 weeks) from 24 Sep to 10 Oct 2016 pic.twitter.com/eWzQMlENL6— Gen Asim Bajwa (@AsimBajwaISPR) September 23, 2016

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The Case for Isolating Pakistan

September 22, 2016

The international isolation that Pakistan currently faces is unprecedented by most measures. Its misdeeds include its: inability to control terrorist activities both inside and outside the country; the nexus of government, intelligence, terrorists and the army; terrorist spillover to neighboring countries; army and intelligence-backed infiltration bids; and most subtly, its all-weather bonhomie with China.

Consider: the United States, which has been hinting for some time now that the bilateral grants flowing from it to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund are contingent on its abilities and effectiveness to reign in terror emanating from its soil, has blocked $300 million in concessional military aid to Pakistan. The Pentagon is not happy with Pakistan’s approach to containing the dreaded Haqqani network, which has been carrying attacks on civilians and also targeting U.S. interests in Afghanistan. In a recent example, the United States has added the Pakistani militant outfit Jamaat-ur-Ahrar to its list of global terrorists, triggering sanctions against a group that has staged multiple attacks on civilians, religious minorities and soldiers. These steps by the United States have been read by most not just as a financial obstruction, but also as tightening of the diplomatic noose on Pakistan by the United States. This was preceded by the United States making it clear that it was not willing to sell subsidized F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan under the foreign military sales program. As an almost immediate follow-up, India struck a deal with the U.S. defense major Lockheed Martin to avail “most advanced” F-16 fighter jets by 2019-20. Under the deal, the company will be manufacturing the latest version of the jets – F-16 Block 70/72 – “exclusively” in India.

America Must Stand by India—and Pressure Pakistan

September 22, 2016

This week, Pakistan-backed militants attacked a military base in Uri, Kashmir. It was the deadliest attack that India has suffered in decades. It has come after months of Pakistan-backed unrest in Kashmir following the killing of a well-known Pakistan-backed terrorist commander, Burhan Wani, by Indian security. Wani worked for the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), which the United States, the European Union and India have designated as a terrorist organization. Pakistan’s civilian-led government denounced his killing as “deplorable and condemnable” in yet another exhibit of Pakistan’s wanton and indefatigable support of terrorism. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif debased himself by praising the terrorist on the floor of the United Nations during his address to the General Assembly, calling him a symbol of the Kashmiri “intifada.”

Unfortunately, this attack at Uri is just another in a long string of incidentsperpetrated by Pakistan’s terrorist proxies. And it won’t be the last. The United States must act fast to demonstrate to India and Pakistan where its loyalties and sympathies lie. It must offer its unstinting support to India, while offering unreserved condemnation of Pakistan for its continued use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft.

Many Indians Doubt the U.S. Commitment to India

The world’s oldest and the world’s largest democracy have worked long and hard to overcome Cold War antagonisms. Efforts led by President Ronald Reagan and Prime Ministers Indira and Rajiv Gandhi failed, over American fears that India would share technology with the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new opportunity space began to open, but doubts lingered on both sides. President Bill Clinton renewed American overtures with the so-called Strategic Dialogue in 1997, which was to culminate in the president’s visit in May 1998. India’s nuclear test that month made that visit impossible; Clinton’s nonproliferation commitments limited the degree to which the two states could forge a rapprochement. Ironically, India’s nuclear test galvanized the most sustained bilateral dialogue, led by Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh. One of the outcomes of that engagement was that the United States developed a significant understanding of India’s strategic imperatives.

Is China Really Building Missiles With Artificial Intelligence? – Analysis

By Abhijit Singh 
SEPTEMBER 22, 2016

With rising security challenges in the global commons, there is growing interest in the subject of “intelligent” weapons systems. This is especially so in the maritime realm, where recent studies have shown that precision-guided weaponry and networked systems are likely to play an increasingly important role. Even while accepting autonomous systems as the future of maritime warfare, however, many find the subject of “intelligent weapon systems” to be deeply contentious.

A good point of departure for the discussion on autonomous combat systems is a recent report in the Chinese media about the development of a family of cruise missiles with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. In August this year, a Chinese daily reported that China’s aerospace industry was developing tactical missiles with inbuilt intelligence that would help seek out targets in combat. The “plug and play” approach, a Chinese aerospace executive pointed out, could potentially enable China’s military commanders to launch missiles tailor made for specific combat conditions.

Oddly enough, no clarifications were offered for what “tailor made cruise missiles with high levels of artificial intelligence and automation” really meant. Apart from reiterating China’s global leadership status in the field of artificial intelligence, the Chinese source did not provide any insight into the specific nature of autonomous capability being developed.

Iran, China Need To Take More Steps To Expand Ties – Analysis

By Masoud Rezaei*
SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
Source Link

At a time that most analysts are talking about ups and downs in cooperation or strategic alliance between Iran and Russia in Syria and its impact on the whole Middle East, relations between Iran and China are not progressing as they should. This seems to be more true in the light of the fact that successful nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries have increased Iran’s international legitimacy and Iran and China are expected to move with more speed toward cementing their strategic cooperation following the conclusion of Iran’s nuclear deal, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Perhaps, China’s unwillingness for serious involvement in the issues of the Middle East and the priority it gives to the country’s economic growth are the main reasons behind this situation. We know that officials in Beijing want the rise in China’s power to take place without any conflict at international level, but Iran is willing to make sure that under new conditions, its relations with China will not be affected by any third country as has been the case in past years.

A problem, which exists in this regard, is the “problem of certainty in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy.” It means that sustained hostility of Tehran toward Washington and some Western countries has constantly sent the message to Eastern powers like Russia and China that Tehran has no choice, but to get closer to these countries in a certain manner and under any conditions. This issue will make China think that it has been supporting Iran for a long time and that Iran is permanently in debt and also in need of this country. Although Beijing cannot ignore the geopolitical position of Iran and knows that in the future Iran will be the most important country in the Middle East for China and for the implementation of the land Silk Road project, the issue of certainty in Iran’s foreign policy has dampened China’s political and strategic motivations to make any effort to satisfy Iran.

Yemen: A Tale Of Saudi Folly And Global Silence – OpEd

By Marwa Osman 
SEPTEMBER 22, 2016

A deafening Silence. That is how the world is reacting to the screams and miseries of the Yemeni children. I will not ask why or how are they able to be so silent? By now we are used to the indifference of the world when it comes to the atrocities committed by Imperialism in the name of democracy in the Middle East.

It is no secret that the world has lost all its senses, especially to feel the sufferings of the tormented. We have seen that many times over the course of history and we will continue to see that, however this does not eliminate the fact that a genocide in Yemen is taking place at the hands of a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, supported by the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel. Bombardment started on March 25, 2015 and is still going on to this moment. The world stands in silent, turning a blind eye while fighting over who wears what on the beach.

Saudi Arabia appears to have completely lost what was left of its sanity. The Saudis have succeeded in killing more than 10,000 Yemeni lives including newborns, women, elderly and disabled people in the past 17 months. Yes 10,000…let that number sink in for a second. Even people who were hospitalized due to the Saudi bombing rampage were bombarded again inside the hospital itself. During that time, the international community has not even lifted a finger over the situation. Simply because of the petrodollar. Al Saud have enough money to control the mass media and bribe all its political patrons including the United Nations.

Disaster Of British Bombast – OpEd

By Neil Berry 
SEPTEMBER 22, 2016

Published in July of this year, the Chilcot Inquiry’s report on Britain’s role in the Iraq war recounted how the UK helped to plunge Iraq into chaos. Now, just two months later, comes a report by Britain’s parliamentary foreign affairs select committee that details how the UK also helped to plunge Libya into chaos.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair emerged from the Chilcot Inquiry as having trumped up the case for attacking Iraq in 2003, claiming that the country’s dictator Saddam Hussein threatened western security when really he and US President George W. Bush were bent on regime change. He emerged, too, as having paid scant attention to international law and no attention to the issue of post-war reconstruction. The select committee’s report tells a not dissimilar story about the disingenuous manner in which the UK intervention in Libya in 2011 was conducted by David Cameron, who recently joined Blair as an ex-British prime minister.

On the pretext of preventing the massacre of rebels against the regime of Col. Qaddafi, Cameron launched a bombing campaign that, in the words of the report, ‘drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change’ and led to the toppling of the Libyan leader. If anything, Cameron proved even more cavalier than Blair about the question of post-war reconstruction. The report stresses how, thanks to the intervention, which Cameron initiated in concert with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Libya collapsed into lawlessness. Five years on, rival militia vie for control of the country’s oil terminals while the putative Libyan government in Tripoli struggles to assert its legitimacy.


SEPTEMBER 22, 2016

The new academic year opened under dark clouds for many scholars in Turkey. The crackdown in the aftermath of July’s attempted military coup has worsened the sense of suffocation. The country now faces the real danger of a “brain drain” as many educated citizens look for a route out.

Over 5,300 academics have been suspended and over 2,300 have been fired for alleged links to the July 15 coup attempt, while 15 private universities linked to the movement of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen have been closed down. The government says the measures target the Gülenists, a Turkish-designated a terrorist organization accused of orchestrating the coup attempt, but there are rising fears that the dragnet is snaring other opposition voices in a broader witch hunt.

According to a recent Times Higher Education report, two charities that help at-risk academics say enquiries from Turkey have shot up in recent weeks. The New York-based Scholar Rescue Fund, part of the Institute of International Education, has said it is facing an “unprecedented” number of requests for help. Its director Sarah Willcox said it has received 65 applications from academics looking to work outside Turkey owing to fear of political persecution since late July. The U.K.-based Council for At-Risk Academics also said it is receiving 15 to 20 applications a week for help, up from four or five a week last year. There are more of these applications coming from Turkey than any other country in the world.

The case of Candan Badem is illustrative. Badem had been working as an associate professor of history at Munzur University in the eastern province of Tunceli. He was among those fired from his job using state of emergency powers after the coup attempt. What raised eyebrows is that Badem openly describes himself as a Marxist and atheist – far from sympathetic to any secretive Islamic group. He told me: “They have turned against all political opposition. They are using this as an excuse to suppress all kinds of opposition.”

Badem claims that the situation “is much graver and much worse than it ever was before,” comparing today with the period after the 1980 military coup, which explicitly targeted leftists:

Pentagon Openly Opposes Sharing Intelligence With Russia on Syria

September 22, 2016

Top U.S. general: Unwise to share intelligence with Russia on Syria

The top U.S. general told Congress on Thursday it would be unwise to share intelligence with Russia and stressed that would not be one of the military’s missions if Washington and Moscow were to ever work together against Islamist militants in Syria.

The United States and Russia clinched a ceasefire deal earlier this month that held out the possibility of joint targeting of militants after a cessation of hostilities and delivery of humanitarian aid.

The text of one of several related documents, published on Thursday by the State Department, said both countries would “share intelligence and develop actionable targets for military action” against the al Qaeda-linked group formerly known as Nusra Front.

It also called for “independent but synchronized efforts” in the fight against Islamic State.

But Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested any such military coordination at a so-called “joint integration cell” would be extremely limited. The military, he said, had no intention of forging an intelligence sharing arrangement with Russia.

“I do not believe it would be a good idea to share intelligence with the Russians,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, without elaborating.

The ceasefire quickly collapsed, making the possibility of future cooperation between the former Cold War foes look remote.


SEPTEMBER 23, 2016

On June 28, three suicide bombers entered the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, where they killed 45 people and injured 229. Although only one of the terrorist was from Russia (the other two were Uzbek and Kyrgyz), it is almost certain that that their last words to one another were in Russian. It is estimated that between 5,000 to 7,000 Russian-speaking jihadists have made Russian the second most popular language of ISIL, after Arabic.

The Changing Demographics

That Russian should be the lingua franca of jihadists from the former Soviet territory is surprising. Many, perhaps most, younger Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks (judging by the gastarbeiters from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan) do not know Russian well or even at all. That Russia is becoming widely-spoken is indicative of the explosive internationalization and the vastly expanded recruitment patterns of what might be called the Russian Jihad based in Russia and former Soviet Central Asia.

With an estimated 2,400 of its citizens fighting with ISIL, Russia is surpassed only by Tunisia and Saudi Arabia in the number of its nationals in the extremist group’s ranks. It is far ahead of the top four European suppliers of ISIL soldiers: France with 1,800 fighters, Britain and Germany with 760 each, and Belgium with 470. Russian language graffiti has been spotted in Darayya, Syria (“We will pray in your palace, Putin! Tatars and Chechens, rise up!”), and there is an Univermag grocery store in the “Russian” district of ISIL’s de-facto capital of Raqqa, alongside Russian-language schools and kindergartens.

Behind this development is a confluence of broad demographic, religious, and political trends that have swept across Russia and post-Soviet space in the past two and a half decades — and that continue to be present today.

Rogue Mission: Did Pentagon Bomb Syrian Army To Kill Ceasefire Deal? – OpEd

SEPTEMBER 21, 2016

“Everything suggests that the attack…… was deliberately committed by forces inside the US government hostile to the ceasefire….Claims that US fighters were unaware of who they were bombing are simply not credible, and are flatly contradicted by other accounts in the media…” — Alex Lantier, World Socialist Web Site

A rift between the Pentagon and the White House turned into open rebellion on Saturday when two US F-16s and two A-10 warplanes bombed Syrian Arab Army (SAA) positions at Deir al-Zor killing at least 62 Syrian regulars and wounding 100 others. The US has officially taken responsibility for the incident which it called a “mistake”, but the timing of the massacre has increased speculation that the attack was a desperate, eleventh-hour attempt to derail the fragile ceasefire and avoid parts of the implementation agreement that Pentagon leaders publicly opposed. Many analysts now wonder whether the attacks are an indication that the neocon-strewn DOD is actively engaged in sabotaging President Obama’s Syria policy, a claim that implies that the Pentagon is led by anti-democratic rebels who reject the Constitutional authority of the civilian leadership. Saturday’s bloodletting strongly suggests that a mutiny is brewing at the War Department.

The chasm that’s emerged between the Pentagon warhawks and the more conciliatory members of the Obama administration has drawn criticism from leading media outlets in the US (The New York Times) to high-ranking members in the Russian cabinet. On Saturday, at an emergency press conference at the United Nations, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin referred to the apparent power struggle that is taking place in Washington with these blunt comments:

“The big question that has to be asked is ‘Who is in charge in Washington? Is it the White House or the Pentagon?’ …Because we have heard comments from the Pentagon which fly in the face of comments we have heard from Obama and Kerry…”

Churkin is not the only one who has noticed the gap between Obama and his generals. A recent article in the New York Times also highlighted the divisions which appear to be widening as the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times:


SEPTEMBER 22, 2016

After being declared the world’s deadliest terrorist organization in 2015, Boko Haram is a menace in retreat. As a whole, the conflict is on pace to claim about 3,500 lives in 2016, a third the number of lives lost in 2015 and the conflict’s lowest total since 2012. As illustrated in Figure 1, during the second quarter of 2016, the group was responsible for 244 killings, the lowest in close to five years.

A close look at the data, drawn from Johns Hopkins University’s Nigeria Social Violence Research Project, reveals four key factors behind Boko Haram’s decline: a failure to spread much beyond Nigeria’s extreme northeast, a loss of popular support, poor strategic thinking by the insurgents, and improved counterinsurgency operations. Though these factors have led to a decisive shift in momentum against the group, the conflict is far from over. Winning the war will require better regional coordination, the re-integration of former militants, and a systematic plan to re-build the northeast, where thousands are currently on the brink of starvation.Figure 1. Quarterly Casualties and Incidents in the Boko Haram Insurgency, 2009-2016 (Source: Johns Hopkins University Nigeria Social Violence Database).

The Conflict Contained


SEPTEMBER 22, 2016

Editor’s Note: This was originally published by The Interpreter, which is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney. War on the Rocks is proud to be publishing articles from The Interpreterweekly.

North Korea does not naturally inspire optimism and the tone among expert observers of the country’s missile and nuclear programs has taken an even more pessimistic tilt of late. Concern is mounting at Pyongyang’s rapid technical advances. The frequency, sophistication, and success rate of recent tests have all increased, even in the teeth of tightening sanctions.

The media usually portrays such tests as belligerence or chest thumping by North Korea, whether to international or domestic audiences. This interpretation is sometimes valid, but ignores more important programmatic drivers. Frequent failures, intrinsic to testing, have meanwhile stoked the impression that North Korea’s bark, amplified by propaganda, is bigger than its strategic bite.

Multiple tests are required to perfect rocket and warhead designs incrementally, to say nothing of the technical challenges of fissile material production. Established nuclear powers with access to greater resources than North Korea followed a similar path of trial and error, but without the glare of sometimes self-inflicted publicity.

Pyongyang’s interest in developing nuclear weapons dates back decades, to when North Korea’s economic decline began to upset the conventional military balance on the peninsula. South Korea also maintained a clandestine nuclear weapons program in the 1970s. In the early 1990s, a full-blown nuclear crisis led to a negotiated plutonium freeze under the Agreed Framework. Although this unwound after it emerged that North Korea was covertly enriching uranium, the Agreed Framework bore out that Pyongyang’s nuclear program and missiles also served as bargaining chips. Under Kim Jong Il, the strategic ambition was undimmed but technical progress could at least be slowed, for a price.

America's Future with Burma Requires Encouragement, Not Sanctions

September 22, 2016

President Obama, after a final face-to-face consultation with Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, announced Wednesday his intent to lift all remaining economic sanctions on the Southeast Asian. As Burma continues its historic yet unfinished transition to democracy, the decision illustrates the power of sanctions to punish and compel, as well as their limits when trying to build and bolster. Burma continues to face many severe and troubling obstacles in its quest for reform, but of the kind no longer effectively treated by the blunt instrument of broad trade restrictions. A more nuanced tool kit—one of engagement and development—will be required going forward.

In response to brutal suppression of dissent and widespread human rights abuses, the United States and others first imposed those punishing economic sanctions on Burma’s military-led regime in the mid-1990s. Aung San Suu Kyi, the British-educated daughter of a Burmese founding father, had become an eloquent and compelling symbol of the opposition to military rule and a crucial catalyst for international action.

Results were slow in coming, however. Economic sanctions are less of a body blow than they are a prolonged strangulation, and Burma’s ruling junta long resisted efforts at change. After years of official obstinacy, Burma suffered isolation and poverty that some compared only to North Korea (and, indeed, only found economic support from China). But early in the Obama administration, the Burmese regime signaled it was ready to take steps toward reform. By 2011, these steps had become too promising to ignore, and Hillary Clinton became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Burma in fifty-six years, to assess the situation and confer with Aung San Suu Kyi on her willingness to lend the process her support. The opposition leader, who had been crucial to the country's global isolation, now lent moral legitimacy to its gradual resuscitation.

Rogue Mission: Did Pentagon Bomb Syrian Army To Kill Ceasefire Deal? – OpEd

SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
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“Everything suggests that the attack…… was deliberately committed by forces inside the US government hostile to the ceasefire….Claims that US fighters were unaware of who they were bombing are simply not credible, and are flatly contradicted by other accounts in the media…” — Alex Lantier, World Socialist Web Site

A rift between the Pentagon and the White House turned into open rebellion on Saturday when two US F-16s and two A-10 warplanes bombed Syrian Arab Army (SAA) positions at Deir al-Zor killing at least 62 Syrian regulars and wounding 100 others. The US has officially taken responsibility for the incident which it called a “mistake”, but the timing of the massacre has increased speculation that the attack was a desperate, eleventh-hour attempt to derail the fragile ceasefire and avoid parts of the implementation agreement that Pentagon leaders publicly opposed. Many analysts now wonder whether the attacks are an indication that the neocon-strewn DOD is actively engaged in sabotaging President Obama’s Syria policy, a claim that implies that the Pentagon is led by anti-democratic rebels who reject the Constitutional authority of the civilian leadership. Saturday’s bloodletting strongly suggests that a mutiny is brewing at the War Department.

The chasm that’s emerged between the Pentagon warhawks and the more conciliatory members of the Obama administration has drawn criticism from leading media outlets in the US (The New York Times) to high-ranking members in the Russian cabinet. On Saturday, at an emergency press conference at the United Nations, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin referred to the apparent power struggle that is taking place in Washington with these blunt comments:

“The big question that has to be asked is ‘Who is in charge in Washington? Is it the White House or the Pentagon?’ …Because we have heard comments from the Pentagon which fly in the face of comments we have heard from Obama and Kerry…”

Churkin is not the only one who has noticed the gap between Obama and his generals. A recent article in the New York Times also highlighted the divisions which appear to be widening as the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times:

Chechnya’s Plan To Use Sufism To Unite Russia’s Muslims Seen Sparking More Conflicts – OpEd

SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
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The Muslim hierarchy in Chechnya, likely with the support of Ramzan Kadyrov, is seeking to promote the kind of Sufism its followers practice as a unifying force for Muslims throughout the Russian Federation, something already triggering new conflicts among that broader community in which historically sufism has played a smaller role.

At the end of Augusst, Grozny hosted a World Islamic Conference on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the birth of former Chechen president Akhmad-khadzhi Kadyrov, the father of the current Chechen leader. It adopted a declaration that it styled as a fetwa making the Sufi kind of Islam in Chechnya obligatory for all Russia’s Muslims.

The fetwa/declaration is available in full at putyislama.ru/kerla/4226. It has now been analyzed in detail for the Portal-Credo portal by Valery Yemelyanov at Moscow’s Time and World analytic center (http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=comment&id=2168) who also considers its implications for Russia’s Muslims as a whole.

Orthodox Muslim sufism is represented on the territory of present-day Russia primarily in Chechnya and Daghestan by the Naqshbandia and Qadiriya orders. These have long histories but they are not defined by the Koran or the Sunna. And consequently, any effort to make their practices and beliefs mandatory for all Muslims violate customary norms, Yemelyanov says.

The Grozny fetwa/declaration not surprisingly has an interesting history given that it makes exactly that declaration. In its text, the analyst says, is the following declaration: “the current fetwa is the agreed decision of the muftis and scholars of Russia and is obligatory for execution by all Muslim organizations of the Russian Federation.”

President Obama’s Appeal To African-Americans – OpEd

SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
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File photo of United States President Barack Obama. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O'Brien/Released

In his effort to help Hillary Clinton to become the next US President, President Obama has appealed to the African-Americans not to vote for Donald Trump. It appears that President Obama has forgotten for a moment that he is still the President of the USA and has the duty to keep all Americans stay united emotionally.

Unfortunately, it appears that the politician in Obama has gained upper hand over the statesmanship in President Obama.

Even the pledged admirers of President Obama cannot approve his appeal to the African Americans to stay united as “blacks” and vote for Hillary Clinton. One cannot be blamed if he would think that President Obama has thoughtlessly tried to divide the American society into whites and blacks, by appealing to all the blacks to support him because he is black and asking them to vote Hillary Clinton, as he supports her.

Really, President Obama has insulted the African-Americans by asking them to vote for a particular candidate enmass staying together. Does he think that African-Americans living in USA would not think for themselves about the policies and programs of the Presidential candidates before exercising their franchise but would vote for the candidate, based on their perception of the candidate as supporter of the blacks or otherwise.

European Strategy In Times Of Geopolitical Interdependence – Analysis

By Luis Simón* 
SEPTEMBER 21, 2016

Russian revisionism represents a direct threat to many eastern and central European countries. In turn, the ripple effects of instability in Syria, Iraq or Libya continue to be felt throughout Europe, not only through successive waves of refugees and migrants, but also through terrorism and mounting insecurity.

Following the publication of the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy (EUGS) in June 2016, and NATO’s July summit in Warsaw, most discussions on European strategy appear to be revolving around the following questions: (A) how to bring security to Europe’s immediate neighbourhood and (B) how to balance attention and resources between Eastern Europe, North Africa/Sahel, and the Levant. When it comes to strategy, prioritization is essential. And it does make sense for Europeans to put their own neighbourhood first, given the proliferation of crises and instability along the continent’s eastern and southern peripheries. However, a world that is increasingly characterized by the rise of Asia and the multiplication of centres of economic activity is one that calls for a truly global approach to foreign and security policy.

Europeans should be careful not to make too strict a distinction between the neighbourhood and what is beyond – and avoid confusing a “neighbourhood-first” with a “neighbourhood-only” approach to strategy and foreign policy. Two reasons stand out in this regard. The first is the geography of the European peninsula, and its contiguity with the rest of the great Eurasian landmass. The second relates to the fact that economic globalization and advances in military technology (including the proliferation of precision-guided weaponry and systems) have led to greater global geopolitical and strategic interconnectivity. For instance, the increasing number, survivability and range of Beijing’s missile inventory, as well as China’s rapidly expanding subsurface fleet, have already extended the reach of China’s so-called “anti-access and area denial” capabilities to cover much of the Indian Ocean region. This suggests that Asian powers can greatly impact the geostrategic balances of the Persian Gulf and, by extension, parts of the immediate European neighbourhood, such as the Levant and even the eastern Mediterranean.

Eurasia’s Economic Union And ASEAN: Why Interaction Is Important – Analysis

By Aidar Amrebayev*
SEPTEMBER 21, 2016

Members of the emerging Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) are reaching out to Southeast Asian countries to balance China’s growing influence in Eurasia. What are the implications for ASEAN?

President Vladimir Putin, at the Russia-ASEAN Summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in May this year, talked about the activation of relations between Russia and ASEAN. Earlier, at the Astana summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the Kazakhstan president proposed to all countries to devote this year to the cooperation with other international associations, including ASEAN. A month later, at the June summit of EEU, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) countries discussed the possibility of cooperation between EEU, SCO and ASEAN.

Two key questions arose: Firstly, why are the former post-Soviet states leaning in the direction of ASEAN? Secondly, what are the opportunities and obstacles in cooperating with ASEAN?
Western Sanctions against Russia

The EEU is a common economic space comprising countries with transition economies, transiting political systems and have not determined their final national identities. A serious technological lag and the raw nature of the economies, along with the authoritarian political systems, seriously limit the possibility of the regional grouping’s dynamic entry into the global economic and political processes.

While the EEU has great economic potential, the domineering presence of Russia, a country with global ambitions and nuclear weapons, could pose complications for the EEU members and other post-Soviet states that have yet to join the grouping. This is especially so should Russia seek to construct a non-Western model of world order, and adopting a confrontational relations with the West on a range of issues.