15 October 2016

*** India-China: Rasputin, Unholy Geopol and Chicken Sandwich

By Bhaskar Dutta Baruah
14 Oct , 2016

When China occupied Tibet, Prime Minister Nehru’s brows should have perspired, because he now had a monstrous red dragon to deal with, even as he struggled with mad dog Pakistan. But Defence Minister Krishna Menon was a powerful man with Communist leanings and Nehru-Menon took zero measures to empower India against the behemoth that now controlled the sources of some prime Indian rivers.

Even prior to their complete occupation of Tibet, China started building a National Highway, G219, connecting Xinjiang to Tibet via Aksai Chin and India ignored this development.

Although United States and Britain anticipated the ‘march of the red dragon’ and tried to empower India economically, their gestures were thwarted by ‘India’s Rasputin’ Menon, who saw our fortunes in China and Russia. Although neighbours next door could make better allies than distant powers, it should not be discounted that one superpower would not want another across its border – after 1962, it appeared that India was destined for a future as ‘China’s Canada’.

Even prior to their complete occupation of Tibet, China started building a National Highway, G219, connecting Xinjiang to Tibet via Aksai Chin and India ignored this development. “Nehru had been aware of the Chinese maps for some time but withheld the information from Parliament, fearing that it would inflame Indian public opinion…“ (Hyer, E; The Pragmatic Dragon…). Although Nehru-Menon later triggered 1962 primarily due to this issue, Nehru finally sidelined Menon and sought western help to fight China, because the routed Indian Military was unprepared for this war. When help arrived in the form of an alliance of anti-Soviets led by America (including Pakistan), China announced a ceasefire and Nehru complied, much to the world’s displeasure.

Fallouts of 1962

*** Is Pakistan's Army Losing Control over Kashmir?

October 12, 2016

The Pakistani Army’s domination over the nation’s economy and foreign policy is not new and has continued since the days of General Ayub Khan, who was among the first military men to realize the fragility of the civilian leadership and engineered the nation’s first coup d’état in 1958. This pattern was followed by General Zia-ul-Haq and General Pervez Musharraf in subsequent years.

The phase beginning from the year 2014 onwards witnessed the strengthening of the military’s role in Pakistan. Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched by the army as a final offensive against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which had nearly paralyzed the FATA region and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and was on the verge of expanding its tentacles into Punjab. The nation witnessed yet another jolt on December 16 of that year, when the TTP struck at Peshawar’s Army Public School, massacring over 130 school children. Its immediate effect fell on the already skewed civil-military relations, which got further weighed down in favor of the military. The 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2015 were passed the following January which set up military courts under constitutional protection to try terror suspects, giving legitimacy to the army’s writ on Pakistan’s law and order machinery.

Further, the announcement of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has given impetus to the army’s huge economic stakes in the upcoming projects. From highway construction to setting up logistics infrastructure and communication lines, CPEC offers a key role for the army’s economic institutions like the Frontier Communications Organization, the National Logistics Cell and the Special Communications Organization.

Revival of Unrest in Kashmir

** On the Bombing of Aleppo


The following statement will appear in The New York Review’s November 10 issue. Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

The world is witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe of historic proportions. It is happening in Syria. It is being perpetrated by the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, in support of his protégé, Bashar al-Assad. Russian planes are bombing the civilian population of Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city, to assist Syrian government forces that are attempting to take control of rebel-held areas of the city. 

The combined assault has, among other things, killed hundreds of people and wounded over a thousand, put the city’s remaining hospitals out of commission, and deprived the population of drinking water. 

President Putin is moving aggressively to exploit the three months between now and the January 20 US presidential inauguration, based on a callous political calculation. 

Mr. Putin calculates that the departing President Obama will be unlikely to intervene in the escalating Syrian conflict and a new American president who might consider a tougher policy will not yet be in office. “Putin is in a hurry before the American elections,” said Nikolai V. Petrov, a political scientist in Moscow. “The next American president will face a new reality and will be forced to accept it.” 

** Of Hawks and Doves

By Maj Gaurav Arya
Date : 14 Oct , 2016

All soldiers want peace, and this is an undisputable fact. They want peace because they are the ones who die in war.

I get messages from doves that accuse me of warmongering. They say that I have an unhealthy obsession with war and blood; that I don’t value human life.

Think of me as a surgeon who recommends amputation of a limb that is severely infected by gangrene. If the limb is not cut, the gangrene will spread. The limb has to be cut to save the patient. The surgical procedure is not pleasant. But that does not make me a butcher. I am still a surgeon.

I have nothing against doves. They are the lifeblood of a vibrant counter narrative. But there are some home truths that they need to understand. And unless they understand these truths, their vision will always be blinkered by comfortable vestigial beliefs they have grown up with.

We have been in a state of war with Pakistan for 70 years. Sometimes, the war was conducted from behind the veil of plausible deniability, through proxies, especially late 70s (Punjab) and after 1989 (Kashmir). Sometimes, it was a direct conventional conflict, like we saw in 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999 (Kargil).

The 26/11 attacks, terror strike on Pathankot Air Force base and Uri terror attacks are fresh in our memory. In the 1993 Mumbai blasts, which left over 257 dead and over 1400 injured were, all planned, financed and directed from Pakistan. So were the many bomb blasts in market places and public areas across India.

How to handle Pakistan? 5 pointers

OCTOBER 5, 2016 

One of youse recommended Peter Tomsen’s The Wars of Afghanistan,so I have been reading it. (No one told me it was the size of The Baseball Encyclopedia.)

I’m impressed at how much Tomsen lays at the feet of the government/military of Pakistan. Fittingly, he ends with a series of recommendations of how to be tougher with Pakistan. Among them:

– “Seek results, not assurances.”

– “Condition U.S. assistance.”

– “Place or threaten to place Pakistan on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.”

– “Pry Pakistan out of the Intra-Afghan peace dialogue.”

– “Maintain a bipartisan consensus on Pakistani policy.”

Pakistan Does Not Have A Water Sharing Arrangement With Afghanistan. A Potential Strategic Lever For India?

13 Oct, 2016

During its recent foray into the world of coercive diplomacy, India drove around various options to successfully inflict retribution on Pakistan for the Uri attack. From the withdrawal of the most favoured nation status to the abrogation of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), the country explored all non-military options to deter Pakistan from supporting militants and terror proxies.

The sharing of water that flows from India to Pakistan through the six shared rivers is governed by the IWT, brokered by the World Bank and signed in 1960. While the option to abrogate the IWT was widely debated, a final decision is yet to be made. The only reason for not having abrogated the treaty could be the international fallout that the action would bring. A humanitarian crisis in Pakistan would portray India as the aggressor, and not the victim. Of course, that is not what the government wants.

Interestingly, the recent worsening of India-Pakistan relations was not only accompanied by increasing synchronisation between Kabul and New Delhi, but also by deterioration in the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan due to a wide range of contentious issues.

Hindi-Bangla bhai-bhai: How Dhaka became India's most important ally in the subcontinent

Bangladesh might be a convenient bogey man for the BJP domestically, but in real terms Delhi and Dhaka enjoy an extremely close relationship.

As the Indian Army crossed the Line of Control and hit at terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir last month, Indian diplomats went into overdrive to present Delhi’s narrative to the world. The main success of this diplomatic offensive was that the United States came down firmly on India’s side. India also managed to wreck the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit planned in Pakistan in November.

In this initiative, one Indian achievement mostly went unnoticed: Bangladesh. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Bangladesh has been India’s greatest supporter when it came to the recent conflagration with Pakistan. Dhaka boycotted the Saarc summit and upheld India’s right to conduct raids into Pakistani-held territory – the only country to support the surgical strikes explicitly. So generous was Dhaka’s support that Bangladesh actually promised to ally with India should it go to war with Pakistan.

Military alliances, even if one-sided (Delhi’s reaction to the offer wasn’t made public) are not made lightly and is a signal of the warmth of the relationship between Bangladesh and India right now. Leaving aside Bhutan – which, as a legacy of the Raj, allows Delhi to have a say in its foreign affairs and defence – Dhaka is now India’s closest ally in South Asia, beating out Nepal (who relationship with Delhi has nosedived in the past two years).
Since 1971


OCTOBER 12, 2016

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines is no stranger to controversy. Some of his greatest hits include a pledge to kill 100,000 criminals while in office, jokes about the rape of an Australian missionary, boasts of Davao City’s “liquidation squads” while he was mayor, and even cursing Pope Francis.

Since taking office in June of 2016, Duterte’s rhetoric translated into action as he launched a “war on drugs.” According to most recent reports, his crackdown has led to the deaths of over 3,600 people. After U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg and President Obama raised concerns over the dramatic rise of extrajudicial killings throughout the country, Duterte signaled that he might overhaul what he previously called an “iron clad” relationship.

The small town mayor turned president is not interested in adhering to international norms and now threatens to break up with his treaty ally over what he views is an infringement on his country’s domestic affairs. The latest demands from Malacanag Palace include the end of the Balikatan exercises and the immediate departure of U.S. special operations forces from Mindanao. Balikatan is annual bilateral exercise between Philippine and U.S. military forces that focuses on partnership, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities. The exercise has gone on for 32 iterations and is the cornerstone of U.S. security cooperation in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, a small contingent of U.S. special operations forces continues to work with Philippine security forces in Mindanao to help advise and assist against terrorist organizations, build capacity, and provide medical expertise.

China Loves Tibet: An Unacknowledged Victory for the Dalai Lama?

By Claude Arpi
14 Oct , 2016

There was a time when the Chinese considered Tibet the most backward, uncultured part of the Middle Kingdom, mainly inhabited by barbarians.

This is not the case anymore and this has important implications for the Tibetan ‘freedom struggle’.

China Tibet News published today some statistics: “during the seven-day National Day holiday, Tibet received 1.03 million tourists, up 18 percent from the previous year. The visitors brought 490 million yuan (about 73.28 million U.S. dollars) in tourism revenue, a year-on-year increase of 20.7 percent.”

The website affiliated to Xinhua remarks: “Traveling to Tibet is a dream for many people. Picturesque scenery and rich human landscape in Tibet attract a large number of tourists every year. Since the beginning of 2016, thanks to the improvement of tourism service standardization, tourism service covering eating, accommodation, traffic, traveling, shopping and entertainment has been enhanced. It provides a comfortable traveling environment for tourists from both home and abroad.”

The old soldiers of the 18th Army who entered (invaded) Central Tibet in the Fall of 1951 would not believe their ears (and eyes).

China Tibet Online adds: “According to tourism authorities, in addition to traditional group tour, one-day tour in Lhasa, one-day tour in suburbs and other excursions are also very popular among tourists. Self-driving tour and cycling tour are highlights in Tibet’s tourism market during the National Day holiday. Most tourists having made a travel plan ahead of time intend to enjoy the entertainment with distinctive culture and buy unique tourism products.”

Tibet a ‘unique’ product.

Chinese President to Probe Bangladesh

By Bhaskar Roy
13 Oct , 2016

Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to pay an official visit to Bangladesh on October 14. Obviously the red carpet will be rolled out for him in Dhaka. 

The two countries have maintained stable and sustained relationship over the decades. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sk. Hasina visited China twice since she returned to power in 2009. Whichever political party or coalition has been the ruling dispensation in Dhaka, care was taken to ensure that this important relationship remained undisturbed.

Xi Jinping is, perhaps, the strongest Chinese leader of Communist China. Deng Xiaoping who changed China’s political and economic narrative with his 1978 “reform and opening up” philosophy is sometimes described as China’s greatest leader. He brought China out of the disaster of the Cultural Revolution and the country owes it to him for what it is today. But he was the “first among equals”, and had to negotiate with his peers. Mao Zedong was very powerful, perhaps even more powerful than Xi is now. But Mao was ruthless and caused destruction that took China at least 50 years back. Xi, on the other hand, is building China many times over and return the nation to its historical glory.

In the spring of 2017, Xi will enter his second and last period of another five years of presidency, according to the laid down practice. But will that be his last tenure? Doubts are being raised in the Chinese Communist Party circles. He will be just about 70, he appears in good health, and he has demolished his serious opponents.

Russian Hackers Have Stepped Up Their Attacks on US Systems After Chinese Largely Stopped

Ken Dilanian
October 12, 2016

Russia May Be Hacking Us More, But China Is Hacking Us Much Less

In a rare bit of good cyber security news, Chinese hacking thefts of American corporate secrets have plummeted in the 13 months since China signed an agreement with the Obama administration to curb economic espionage, U.S. officials and outside experts say.

Analysts say the success may hold lessons for how the U.S. should deal with Russia, which at the same time has stepped up a different sort of hacking campaign that officials says is aimed at undermining confidence in the American election.

The change in China’s behavior “has been the biggest success we’ve had in this arena in 30 years,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of Crowdstrike, a cyber security firm that tracks computer network intrusions.

“And it wasn’t anything we did in cyber space – it was the threat of sanctions and the impact on their economy.”

Alperovitch said his firm has observed a 90 percent drop in commercial hacking against U.S. firms attributable to Chinese government actors. U.S, intelligence agencies also have reported a sharp falloff, according to officials briefed on the matter.

To be sure, Alperovitch and others say, Chinese intelligence agencies are still hacking to steal national U.S. security secrets, including attacking defense firms. But those attacks are considered commonplace, because they are exactly what the National Security Agency does to China and other U.S. adversaries.

Rodrigo Duterte may hand China the strategic piece it needs to take control of the South China Sea

Next week Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, who took power in late June, will make his first state visit to China. Of course he’s hoping for a bonanza of loans and trade deals. What he’s not expecting or demanding: the return of Scarborough Shoal, which China seized from the Philippines in 2012, sparking demonstrations by Filipinos around the world.

“We cannot win that,” he said during a speech this week. “Even if we get angry, we’ll just be putting on airs. We can’t beat [China].”

A large coral atoll with a reef-rimmed lagoon, Scarborough Shoal lies about 120 nautical miles (222 km, 138 miles) from the Philippines’ coast. Filipino fishermen have relied on the atoll’s rich fishing grounds for generations. China has blocked their access to it since the takeover.

But China didn’t seize Scarborough Shoal just for the fish. It took it for control of the South China Sea.

Beijing is close to creating a “strategic triangle” in the sea that would allow it to monitor and police the waterway for decades to come. In recent years it’s rapidly built large artificial islands—with bunkers, landing strips, and surveillance equipment—atop reefs and other features, including in the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos, in the south and west, respectively. All it needs now to complete the triangle is one more such island—at Scarborough Shoal in the northeast.

Warning signs

OPEC Is in its Death Throes

OCTOBER 10, 2016 

The latest bluster by Saudi Arabia won't scare America’s oil producers – or solve its own existential crisis. 

Like the boy who cried wolf, 2016 might become the year of the oil producers’ cartel that cried “output cut.” If that’s right, and the U.S. shale industry becomes the oil market’s marginal producer, Middle Eastern petro-states and, above all, Saudi Arabia are in for lean and hard years ahead.

In February, OPEC called for an oil production “freeze” to raise crude prices in conjunction with Russia. But this effort collapsed at a meeting in Doha, Qatar, in April when Iran refused to join any freeze in order to regain the pre-2012 production levels of close to 4 mbpd it enjoyed before U.S. and European Union nuclear sanctions were imposed, following the removal of certain sanctions after the 2015 nuclear deal. A similar proposal failed at the OPEC meeting in June, again following Iran’s refusal, despite outreach by the Qataris.

Having dashed market hopes and crude prices in February, April, and June, OPEC again called for a form of output cut on Sept. 28 at an extraordinary meeting in Algiers. Markets bit on the news, with Brent prices rising sharply by about 15 percent in the following week, from $46 to $52 per barrel.

So should markets now take OPEC seriously? Can action by the cartel sustain higher crude prices over the long term? Probably not. Like a desert mirage, the image of an OPEC resurrection vanishes when approached.

OPEC, which has always been dominated by Saudi Arabia, went into hibernation in the summer of 2014. The massive fall in oil prices from over $100 per barrel in early 2014 to under $30 by January 2016 was caused primarily by then-Saudi Minister of Petroleum Ali al-Naimi’s strategy to gain market share for the kingdom and hurt the U.S. tight oil (or “shale”) industry by allowing the market, not OPEC interventions, to set prices.


OCTOBER 12, 2016

“You shouldn’t think of Putin as such a primitive guy. It’s totally clear that the Syrian and Ukrainian crises had nothing to do with one another.” This is what Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, had to say when Julia Ioffe asked him whether President Obama’s decision to not bomb Syria in 2013 emboldened Putin to invade Ukraine. “Russia is a nuclear superpower, and this kind of rationale vis-a-vis Russia is senseless.”

In a recent article for War on the Rocks, I argued that the conventional discussion of the relationship between credibility and state reputation is misguided. I marshaled evidence from my study of international crises to demonstrate that the record of U.S. compellence (the use of threats to induce a target state to change its behavior) is inconsistent with the argument that the United States must intervene in country A in order to effectively coerce country B. This simple interpretation of the role of state reputation, often advanced by the commentariat and critics of this president in particular, does not fit with reality: States do not behave as we would expect if reputation operates in such a straightforward manner.

Alex Weisiger and Keren Yarhi-Milo criticize this approach in a recent response. I welcome this opportunity to consider a topic of critical importance to both academic and policy debates about the use of power and influence in international politics. If we define “reputation” as “a state’s record of past behavior,” then I would agree that the United States’ “reputation” probably influences the way potential adversaries and allies assess American threats and promises. We might call this the “general reputation” theory of state behavior. If the United States never followed through on any commitment anywhere, target states would be unlikely to take the United States’ demands very seriously. Nor would I disagree that the United States’ record of behavior in alliances or in past military conflicts may influence the way other states perceive the United States and how they respond to its demands.

News of the Weird: Exploding ISIS Drones

Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt
October 12, 2016

Pentagon Confronts a New Threat From ISIS: Exploding Drones

WASHINGTON — Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in northern Iraq last week shot down a small drone the size of a model airplane. They believed it was like the dozens of drones the terrorist organization had been flying for reconnaissance in the area, and they transported it back to their outpost to examine it.

But as they were taking it apart, it blew up, killing two Kurdish fighters in what is believed to be one of the first times the Islamic State has successfully used a drone with explosives to kill troops on the battlefield.

In the last month, the Islamic State has tried to use small drones to launch attacks at least two other times, prompting American commanders in Iraq to issue a warning to forces fighting the group to treat any type of small flying aircraft as a potential explosive device.

The Islamic State has used surveillance drones on the battlefield for some time, but the attacks — all targeting Iraqi troops — have highlighted its success in adapting readily accessible technology into a potentially effective new weapon. American advisers say drones could be deployed against coalition forces by the terrorist group in the battle in Mosul.

For some American military analysts and drone experts, the episodes confirmed their view that the Pentagon — which is still struggling to come up with ways to bring down drones — was slow to anticipate that militants would turn drones into weapons.

“We should have been ready for this, and we weren’t,” said P. W. Singer, a specialist on robotic weaponry at New America, a think tank in Washington.

The United States and Russia Are Prepping for Doomsday

OCTOBER 7, 2016 

With the collapse of yet another arms reduction agreement, Washington and Moscow are now sitting on a stockpile of plutonium good for tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. 

The other day, a little present arrived in the mail. It was book, or rather a pair of doorstops. Titled Doomed to Cooperate, the massive two-volume set is about 1,000 pages of essays, interviews, and vignettes from more than 100 participants in the remarkable period of cooperation between the nuclear weapons complexes of the United States and Russia in the immediate post-Cold War period. Siegfried Hecker, who edited the volumes, titled them after the remark of a Soviet scientist, who said of the shared danger that nuclear weapons pose, “Therefore, you know, we were doomed to work together, to cooperate.” Not everyone got the message, certainly not Vladimir Putin. Set against relations between Washington and Moscow today, the incredible stories in Hecker’s two volumes seem to be from another era entirely. On Monday, Putin issued a decree suspending a plutonium disposition agreement with the United States due to its “unfriendly actions.” (An unofficial translation is available from the Center for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow, as is a draft law submitted by the Kremlin.) Putin’s decree ends one of the last remaining forms of cooperation from that remarkable era.

“Plutonium disposition” is a fancy sort of phrase, the kind of term of art that, when I drop it at a cocktail party, sends people off to refill their drinks. But plutonium is the stuff of which bombs are made. 

After the Cold War, the United States and Russia agreed to dispose of tons of plutonium to make sure it could never be put back into bombs.

Oil prices could rise again soon – and bring India's growth engine to a halt

Crude costs touched a one-year high on Monday and any further increase will offset the major savings that India made on fuel imports in the last two years.

When it comes to oil, India has long had to tread carefully. After all, it imports about 80% of the oil it uses.

This weighs heavily on the economy. In 2012-'13, for instance, the cost of oil imports touched a high of Rs 9.64 lakh crore, prompting the government to scramble to reduce the burden by arresting the rupee’s decline in the exchange markets and encourage consumers to use less fuel.

In 2015-'16, the global slump in oil prices because of oversupply and reduced demand considerably cut India’s payout for oil imports from the previous year. But the fall in prices also drove up consumption, increasing imports.

This could spell trouble for the exchequer as oil prices rise again – thebeginnings of which can already been seen.
Market watch

Like most other commodity markets, the global oil market works on speculation about the future, rather than present realities. For instance, oil prices jumped in global exchanges from $46 per barrel to a one-year high of $53 per barrel after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday that his country was prepared to join efforts to limit production to manage oversupply in the market and drive prices up.

Will Attorneys Now Raise the "Hillary Defense" on Classified Information?

October 12, 2016

“Deliberate or negligent failure to comply with rules and regulations for protecting classified or other sensitive information raises doubt about an individual's trustworthiness, judgment, reliability, or willingness and ability to safeguard such information, and is a serious security concern.” —Guideline K: Handling Protected Information. National Adjudicative Guidelines for Security Clearances.

When Hillary Clinton decided to perform the public’s business on a private email server, hide that fact for years and then subsequently delete thirty thousand purportedly personal emails, she probably never anticipated that a consequence of those actions would be to place the obscure world of security clearance law squarely into the national spotlight.

It is a field that was perhaps otherwise destined to remain in the shadows. After all, the denial or revocation of a security clearance usually portends a rather embarrassing issue for the accused. Examples I see with regularity include infidelity, addiction, bizarre fetishes and—yes—reckless disregard for the rules and regulations designed to protect classified information from falling into the wrong hands. Questions about judgment, character and blackmail potential naturally arise as a result.

As it turns out, a great many generally good people have baggage that makes them a national security risk if given access to classified information. But only one of those people is running for President. The others have long since been unceremoniously escorted from their offices in various federal departments and agencies; many, including those who have spilled blood for our country, are now performing manual labor or working hourly jobs to make ends meet. Some, like Gen. David Petraeus, face the wrath of federal prosecutors.

Why Reagan's Middle East Record Was Dismal

October 12, 2016

As the Obama era draws to a close, how will history judge the administration’s Middle East policy? The bloodletting in Syria, the growing sectarian tensions in the region and the continued stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suggest that the verdict will not be too kind. Yet history also warns us of the dangers of drawing rash conclusions.

After all, twenty-eight years have passed since Ronald Reagan departed the White House. He is still hailed by many Americans as the leader who ended the Cold War, yet remarkably few have drawn attention to his dismal record in the Middle East. Poignantly, the recent passing of Israel’s elder statesman, Shimon Peres, presents an opportunity to revisit an episode which casts the Reagan administration in a new light. Not necessarily in a favorable light. Almost thirty years on, the Reagan administration’s failure to support Peres in his peace efforts with Jordan’s King Hussein increasingly looks like a costly blunder. The reverberations of this policy failure are arguably still with us today.

Reagan’s timidity and vacillation was embodied by his own initiative of September 1982 which he unveiled in a belated bid to bring peace to the region in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. A self-governing Palestinian authority was to be established through free elections in association with Jordan on the West Bank. The initiative also called for an immediate settlement freeze by Israel in the Palestinian territories. As a popular president at this time, he could and should have persevered with his peace plan. Instead, he quickly backed down in the face of the fierce opposition of Israel’s Begin government. This set the tone for what was to come.

The U.S. Navy Has an Image Problem

October 12, 2016

Battle is the arbiter of tactical and operational acumen. By definition, though, armed forces don’t duel one another in peacetime. So how does one force prevail over another in peacetime strategic competition?

This represents a question of utmost moment for the U.S. Navy, which is clinging to its maritime supremacy in the face of challengers on the make.

The victor in strategic competition triumphs by impressing important audiences—by making them believers in its combat prowess relative to its rivals. Prospective foes blanch from a trial of arms against a palpably stronger force. Allies and friends take heart when backed by such a force. Third parties flock to likely winners and shun likely losers in times of trouble. Constituents back home accept risk when their armed forces are the odds-on favorite in martial enterprises.

Impressions count—in naval warfare as in our mamas’ folk wisdom. Fighting ships, warplanes, armaments, and crews are political implements. If battle tests the combatants’ fighting power in wartime, important audiences’ estimate of who’s who decides the outcome of a peacetime showdown. Whichever contender observers think would have won in combat wins in peacetime.

And, perversely, it matters little whether laymen’s impressions are accurate or inaccurate, just or unjust. A weaker but imposing-looking force could emerge triumphant from an encounter in an embattled expanse such as, say, the South China Sea. Make believers of elites and ordinary folk and you shall go far. Leave them doubting and your political efficacy suffers. Lose the war of perceptions and you risk losing out altogether.

Armenia's New Ballistic Missiles Will Shake Up the Neighborhood

October 12, 2016

The military parade dedicated to the twenty-fifth anniversary of Armenia’s independence has put an end to three years of speculation about whether Armenia is in possession of the Russian-made advanced 9K720 Iskander Short-Range Ballistic Missile System (SRBMS). Starting with the public rehearsal on September 16, 2016, with newly procured equipment, Armenia showcased elements of the system: two transporter-erector-launchers and their transporter-loader vehicles. Subsequently, several Russian media outletsreported that Armenia had purchased at least one division, including a minimum of four launchers of the Iskander system, adding that this acquisition was outside the terms of 2015’s Armenian-Russian arms deal, which was worth $200 million. Moreover, it was officially underscored that these systems are not the same as the Iskander-M systems dispatched to Armenia in 2013 as reinforcement for Russia’s 102nd Military Base in Gyumri.

The Iskander is a mobile operative-tactical missile platform codenamed SS-26 Stone by NATO, which came to replace Soviet Scud missile prototypes. In particular, Iskander’s missiles are designed to be capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads, and claim to be accurate within seven meters.

Such formidable ballistic equipment has long been the focus of disputes between Western and Russian political actors and experts, especially in light of the mounting standoff between NATO and Russia.

The Growing Danger of Military Conflict with Russia

October 11, 2016

Once more, the circle in U.S.-Russia relations is complete. The Clinton administration took office in 1993 promising a “Bill and Boris” strategic partnership between the two countries, and ended with recriminations over the Kosovo operation, with Gen. Wesley Clark prepared to start World War III to block the arrival of Russian peacekeepers in Pristina. George W. Bush left the Ljubljana summit with Vladimir Putin in summer 2001 promising a qualitatively different U.S.-Russia relationship, which seemed to bear fruit in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but concluded his term dealing with the Russian incursion into Georgia with calls from his own party, especially in Congress, for a forceful U.S. response. Barack Obama was going to reset relations with Russia, and now, in the weeks remaining in office, is facing demands from his own State Department and Department of Defense for drawing a line in the sand in Syria against Russian airstrikes on a besieged Aleppo—even at the risk of a face-to-face confrontation between American and Russian forces.

At various points in these pages over the past twenty-five years, serious voices—C. Fred Ikle, Robert Legvold, Henry Kissinger, Graham Allison and Dimitri K. Simes, and Robert Blackwill, to name a few—have called for a sober evaluation of U.S.-Russia relations and a concerted effort to work through the irritants and roadblocks in the U.S.-Russia relationship to find a way to concentrate on the advancing the agenda of shared interests between Washington and Moscow. Yet in both the Capitol and White House and in the Kremlin, matters have deteriorated to the point that such advice now falls on deaf and uninterested ears. Each side has a well-rehearsed litany of complaints and accusations—cyber attacks, Syria, Ukraine, human rights, NATO enlargement, color revolutions, duplicity over Libya, and so on and so forth—that makes dialogue almost impossible.


OCTOBER 13, 2016

Historians will remember the Obama administration’s 2009 deliberation over what to do in Afghanistan as one of the fiercest debates over military strategy during this president’s tenure. Although this debate was surely more nuanced than what was reported publicly, accounts paint the administration as divided into two camps. One camp, led by Vice President Joe Biden, favored a light military footprint focused primarily on counter-terrorism. This would keep the U.S. military out of an expensive, prolonged, and uncertain nation-building project. The second camp’s chief advocates were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and – eventually – Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. They pushed for a fully resourced, “whole of government” counterinsurgency campaign with a large footprint aimed at delivering decisive blows against the Taliban insurgency while training and expanding the Afghan National Security Forces.

As we all know, President Obama largely came down in support of the second camp, but with a limited timeline for success. As the costs of a large counterinsurgency campaign unfolded – in terms of blood, treasure, and prestige – the idea of these prolonged operations fell out of favor in the White House. As a result, the United States approaches these “internal wars” in failing or failed states very differently.

In the end, it is Biden’s prescription that has won out due in large part to the perceived failures of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States adapted by placing a greater emphasis on special operations forces to execute lethal, surgical attacks and train and advise partnered and proxy forces. To an extent unprecedented in U.S. military history, special operations forces, with tremendous support from the U.S. Air Force, are the preferred tool of American hard power around the globe. In various hot spots, special operations forces focus relentlessly on killing the enemy and training forces to do the same.

A New Weapon in Russia’s Arsenal, and It’s Inflatable

Andrew E. Kramer
October 12, 2016

A New Weapon in Russia’s Arsenal, and It’s Inflatable

In a field outside Moscow, workers armed with little more than green fabric and air compressors are creating an imposing weapon.Photo
Credit James Hill for The New York Times
A sleek, slate-gray MIG-31 fighter jet suddenly appears, its muscular, stubby wings spreading to reveal their trademark red star insignia.Photo

It is a decoy, lifelike in appearance from as close as 300 yards.Photo

This trick is another entry in Russia’s repertoire of deceit and disguise, known as maskirovka, a psychological warfare doctrine that’s becoming an increasingly critical element in the country’s geopolitical ambitions.

“If you study the major battles of history, you see that trickery wins every time,” Aleksei A. Komarov, the military engineer in charge of this sleight of hand, said with a sly smile. “Nobody ever wins honestly.”

Mr. Komarov oversees army sales at Rusbal, or Russian Ball, a hot-air balloon company that also provides the Ministry of Defense with one of Russia’s lesser-known military threats: a growing arsenal of inflatable tanks, jets and missile launchers.

As Russia under President Vladimir V. Putin has muscled its way back onto the geopolitical stage, the Kremlin has employed a range of stealthy tactics: silencing critics abroad, hitching the Orthodox Church to its conservative counterrevolution, spreading false information to audiences in Europe and even,according to the Obama administration, meddling in American presidential politics by hacking the Democratic Party’s computers.

US Air Force’s X-37B space plane reaches 500 days in orbit - and we STILL don’t know its mission

Ellie Zolfagharifard and Abigail Beall
October 12, 2016

US Air Force’s X-37B space plane reaches 500 days in orbit - and we STILL don’t know its mission

One of the most mysterious craft ever to be flown by the US military has been in orbit for 500 days.

The X-37B space plane, an experimental program run by the Air Force, launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 20, 2015.

While some details of its payload have been revealed - we still do not know exactly what’s on board. 

Theories have ranged from it being a space bomber, to a clandestine probe on a mission to ‘take out’ spy satellites. 

One of the most mysterious craft ever to be flown by the US military has been in orbit for 500 days. The X-37B space plane, an experimental program run by the Air Force, launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 20, 2015. Pictured is an artist’s impression


The U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane has flown three previous secret missions to date.

Each time it has carried a mystery payload on long-duration flights in Earth orbit.

The spacecraft looks similar to Nasa’s space shuttle but is much smaller. The X-37B is about 29ft (8.8m) long and 9.5ft (2.9 m) tall.

Will the Obama Administration Release Proof of Russian Hacking of DNC Computers?

Adam Segal
October 12, 2016

After Attributing a Cyberattack to Russia, the Most Likely Response Is Non Cyber

Almost four months after the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike claimed that two Russian hacker groups were behind the theft of data from computers at theDemocratic National Committee and other political organizations, the U.S. government has publicly attributed the attacks to Russia. In a joint statementfrom the Director of National Intelligence and Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence community declared that it was “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” According to the statement, the hack was not the work of an individual calling himself Guccifer 2.0 or a 400 pound hacker sitting on a bed, but was: intended to interfere with the U.S. elections; consistent with other Russian efforts to influence public opinion in Europe and Eurasia; and was likely to have been authorized at the highest levels of the Russian government.

This is the latest in a growing list of cyberattacks that the United States has attributed to state-supported hackers. Washington accused the PLA of hacking U.S. Steel and others;North Korea of attacking Sony; and seven hackers tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps of attacks on U.S. financial institutions and a dam in Rye, New York. Russia has, not surprisingly, denied any responsibility, saying the claims “lack proof” and are an attempt to create “unprecedented anti-Russian hysteria.”

The next steps for the Obama administration are unclear. As Henry Farrell notes, the U.S. government will now have to decide if it will provide compelling evidence of Russian culpability. Releasing additional proof will be necessary if the United States wants to build some international legitimacy for whatever retaliatory actions it takes. In fact, the United States signed onto a 2015 UN report that said that accusations of internationally “wrongful acts brought against states”–the kind the United States is accusing Russia—”should be substantiated.” But substantiation has significant risks. It will be difficult to assign responsibility without revealing intelligence capabilities, and attribution may allow Russia to patch vulnerabilities and result in the loss of U.S. defensive and offensive capabilities.