Archive for May, 2013

“Killed in a suspected US drone strike”

31/05/2013

The Pakistani Taliban’s No. 2 commander was killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike Wednesday, two Pakistani intelligence officials and a Pakistani Taliban commander said, a potentially significant blow to an insurgent group that has been linked to a series of brutal attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Reports of the drone strike came as Pakistan is transitioning to a new government, and it was the first since President Obama outlined restrictions on the administration’s targeted killing policy in a major counterterrorism speech last week. Under the policy, drone targets are narrowly defined as active members of al-Qaeda and associated groups overseas who pose an imminent threat to U.S. citizens”.

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Confusion reigns

31/05/2013

Two articles have appeared commenting on President Obama’s recent speech on the future of the drone programme. In the first, Micah Zenko writes that Obama said very little new.

Zenko opens his piece writing “President Obama gave an exhaustive and wide-ranging speech that attempted to re-frame U.S. counterterrorism objectives, defend his administration’s policy choices, and provide guidance for the remainder of his second term. This speech had been promised in Obama’s State of the Union address, and it was effectively the culmination of a 16-month effort to selectively engage with — and shape — public debate so as to put drone strikes on a more defensible footing”.

Zenko adds, “The term “force protection” is defined by the Pentagon as “preventive measures taken to mitigate hostile actions against Department of Defense personnel (to include family members), resources, facilities, and critical information.” The force protection objective of Pakistan drone strikes partially explains why their numbers expanded and contracted with the surge and withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Why the Bush and Obama administrations refused to acknowledge, until Thursday, what was plainly evident to anybody who followed this issue, will likely remain an unsolved riddle of the war on terror”.

He writes that Obama did not address when, whether or if DoD or the CIA will control the drone operations, or that “the new guidelines indicate that targets must present a “continuing, imminent threat to Americans,” according to a U.S. official. The New York Times and the Financial Times both wrote that this indicated an end to the controversial practice of “signature strikes” against anonymous military age males whose guilt is determined, in part, by the patterns of their observable behavior. But, on Tuesday, Baker wrote: ‘For now, officials said, ‘signature strikes’ targeting groups of unidentified armed men presumed to be extremists will continue in the Pakistani tribal areas.’ Meanwhile, Declan Walsh revealed that this year ‘the United States cut back on so-called signature strikes against clusters of militant suspects.’ So, who knows?”

He adds that “President Obama did not directly address any of those issues, nor are they discussed in the declassified summary of the presidential policy guidance. He also did not speak to the longstanding concern of what procedures are in place to mitigate harm to civilians, stating instead: “Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.” This is merely an assertion, and it raises further questions about how the Obama administration defines “near-certainty” and what lower standard they were following previously”.

He ends the piece “This was supposed to be the speech in which President Obama clarified his targeted killing policies. Instead, he further confused both domestic and international audiences. By comparing it with previous administration officials’ comments, Jonathan Landay determined that “Obama’s speech appeared to expand those who are targeted in drone strikes.” Wall Street Journal reporters came to the opposite conclusion: “The new language is more restrictive than the policy declared in an April 2012 speech by John Brennan, then White House counterterrorism chief.”

“Free to supply weapons”

29/05/2013

“Britain and France are free to supply weapons to Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad from August, after attempts to renew an EU arms embargo on Syria failed on Monday. After a marathon negotiating session in Brussels, EU governments failed to bridge their differences and let a ban on arming the opposition expire, with France and Britain scoring a victory at the expense of EU unity. Britain and France have made a commitment not to deliver arms to the Syrian opposition “at this stage,” an EU declaration said. But EU officials said the commitment effectively expires on August 1. The refusal of London and Paris to go along with the arms embargo could have caused the collapse of all EU sanctions against Syria, embarrassing the EU and handing a victory to Assad. EU ministers managed to avert that by agreeing to reinstate all of the restrictions except for the arms embargo on the rebels”.

Countering the criticisms

29/05/2013

After the recent announcement of a change in the drone programme by President Obama.

Some of the left are concerned about the roles drones are supposedly playing. However, an article counters these criticisms, “A growing number of international human rights organizations are concerned about the development of lethal autonomy — that is, drones that can select and fire on people without human intervention. But as the outcry over this still-hypothetical technology grows, it’s worth asking: might the opposite be true? Could autonomous drones actually better safeguard human rights? Last month, Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, released a major report calling for a pause in developing autonomous weapons and for the creation of a new international legal regime governing future development and use. Heyns asked whether this technology can comply with human rights law and whether it introduces unacceptable risk into combat. The U.N. report is joined by a similar report, issued last year by Human Rights Watch. HRW argues that autonomous weapons take humanity out of conflict, creating a future of immoral killing and increased hardship to civilians. HRW calls for a categorical ban on all development of lethal autonomy in robotics. HRW is also spearheading a new global campaign to forbid the development of lethal autonomy”.

Foust goes on to write “The judgment and morality of individual humans certainly isn’t perfect. Human decision-making is responsible for some of the worst atrocities of recent conflicts. Just on the American side, massacres — like when Marines killed 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha or Marine special forces shot 19 unarmed civilians in the back in Jalalabad — speak to the fragility of human judgment about using force. Despite decades of effort to make soldiers less likely to commit atrocities, it still happens with alarming regularity. Yet, machines are not given the same leeway: Rights groups want either perfect performance from machines or a total ban on them”.

He then goes on to make the valid point that “An accounting of how robots currently work is missing from much of the advocacy against drones and autonomy. In a recent article for the United Nations Association, Noel Sharkey, a high-profile critic of drones and a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, argued forcefully that machines cannot ‘distinguish between civilians and combatants,’ apply the Geneva Conventions, or determine proportionate use of force. It is a curious complaint: A human being did not distinguish between civilians and combatants, apply the Geneva Convention, or determine an appropriate use of force during the infamous 2007 “Collateral Murder” incident in Iraq, when American helicopter pilots mistook a Reuters camera crew for insurgents and fired on them and a civilian van that came to offer medical assistance. Humans get tired, they miss important information, or they just have a bad day. Without machines making any decisions to fire weapons, humans are shooting missiles into crowds of people they cannot identify in so-called signature strikes. When a drone is used in such a strike, it means an operator has identified some combination of traits — a “signature” — that makes a target acceptable to engage. These strikes are arguably the most problematic use of drones, as the U.S. government tightly classifies what these criteria are and has announced it will consider all “military-aged males” that die combatants unless proven otherwise. A machine could, conceivably, do it better”.

China hacks America

29/05/2013

Another Chinese cyber attack, this time on America itself, “Designs for many of the nation’s most sensitive advanced weapons systems have been compromised by Chinese hackers, according to a report prepared for the Pentagon and to officials from government and the defense industry. Among more than two dozen major weapons systems whose designs were breached were programs critical to U.S. missile defenses and combat aircraft and ships, according to a previously undisclosed section of a confidential report prepared for Pentagon leaders by the Defense Science Board. Experts warn that the electronic intrusions gave China access to advanced technology that could accelerate the development of its weapons systems and weaken the U.S. military advantage in a future conflict”. The consequences of this are threefold, “The experts said the cybertheft creates three major problems. First, access to advanced U.S. designs gives China an immediate operational edge that could be exploited in a conflict. Second, it accelerates China’s acquisition of advanced military technology and saves billions in development costs. And third, the U.S. designs can be used to benefit China’s own defense industry. There are long-standing suspicions that China’s theft of designs for the F-35 fighter allowed Beijing to develop its version much faster”.

Drill more or less?

29/05/2013

After an article was published in the New York Times recently arguing that American energy independence will mean more, not less US engagement with the Middle East a counter argument has also been published, this time in Foreign Policy. This is after news that America is no longer the world’s largest importer of oil, and that Saudi Arabia will have to import oil from 2038.

The piece opens “Current trends in the global energy market don’t look good for Saudi Arabia. First, the International Energy Agency projected in November 2012 that the United States will surpass the Gulf petrogiant as the world’s top energy producer by 2020. Then, last week, it revealed that North America, buoyed by the rapid development of its unconventional oil industry, is set to dominate global oil production over the next five years. These unforeseen developments not only represent a blow to Saudi Arabia’s prestige but also a potential threat to the country’s long term economic well-being — particularly in the post-Arab Spring era of elevated per-capita government spending”.

Interestingly he writes that the official response to the coming crisis has been confused, “Within a period of just five days last month, two senior Saudi Arabian officials laid out starkly different versions of their country’s oil production plan. In an April 25 speech at Harvard University, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi Arabia’s top intelligence agency and the current chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, announced that the kingdom is set to increase its total production capacity from 12.5 million barrels per day (mbd) today to 15 mbd by 2020, an amount that would easily make it the world’s top oil producer once again. But five days later, in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, Saudi Arabian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali al-Naimi conveyed an entirely different message, rejecting Turki’s statement out of hand. ‘We don’t see anything like that, even by 2030 or 2040,’ he said. ‘We really don’t need to even think about 15 million.’

He add context noting, “2.5 mbd is roughly equivalent to the entire production capacity of major oil producers like Mexico, Kuwait, Iraq, Venezuela, and Nigeria. Whether or not Saudi Arabia plans to ramp up its production, in other words, is relevant to virtually every household on the planet. One might be tempted to dismiss Turki’s grandiose projection on grounds of technical ignorance and defer to the man who is actually in charge of the country’s oil industry. That is certainly one way to read the official inconsistency. But in Saudi Arabia, how much oil to produce is first and foremost a political decision” but goes on to write that the decision of whether Saudi Arabia will produce more or less is to drill more or less.

He goes on to write “With no revenues from personal income tax and 40 percent of its 28 million citizens under the age of 15 — not to mention a male population that is mostly employed in the bloated public sector — Saudi Arabia is heavily dependent on oil revenues to provide cradle-to-grave social services to its people. And the financial liability has only gotten heavier since the Arab Spring forced the regime to fight public discontent with ever more gifts and subsidies. To make things worse, Saudi Arabia is the world’s sixth — sixth! — largest oil-consuming country”.

He continues, noting the that break even price in 1997 for Saudi Arabia was $20 per barrel, now however it is $100. This is not as high as the $115 in neighbouring Kuwait, and $125 for Iran, but it is moving in that direction due to the incredible inefficiency of the system.

He then mentions “According to Riyadh-based Jadwa Investment, one of the world’s most important knowledge bases on Saudi Arabia’s economy, by 2020 the breakeven price will reach $118 per barrel. At this point, the Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency’s cash reserves will begin to drain rapidly and the breakeven price will soar to $175 a barrel by 2025 and to over $300 by 2030. And this cuts to the heart of the dilemma: In order to balance its budget in the future, Saudi Arabia will need to either drill more barrels and sell them for lower prices or drill fewer barrels — actively reducing global supply — and sell each at a higher price. This is the crux of the Turki-Naimi debate. Both officials understand the centrality of oil revenues to the survival of the House of Saud, but they differ on how best to come up with the money. Turki believes that Saudi Arabia should grow its production capacity in sync with the growth of the global economy. But Naimi, the person who will actually be charged with meeting this goal, prefers to keep capacity as it is and, if needed, even let it slide. If history is our guide, Naimi’s way will prevail”.

Worryingly for the country, and the rest of the world, “Another potential explanation for Naimi’s reluctance to grow capacity is that he knows what Sadad al-Husseini, the former head of exploration at Saudi Aramco, allegedly told the U.S. consul general in Riyadh in 2007. According to a leaked cable published by WikiLeaks, Husseini said that Saudi Arabia may have overstated its oil reserves by as much as 40 percent, meaning that production at current levels is unsustainable. If Husseini’s claim is true, it means there is only one way for the kingdom to make ends meet: Keep prices high by stalling the development of new capacity while adjusting the production of oil downward to offset any growth in supply emanating from the American oil boom”.

He ends the piece “The Turki-Naimi dispute is not an academic one but one with potentially serious implications for the future of the world economy. Whether or not Saudi Arabia likes it — and it almost certainly does not — the global energy market is about to get more competitive. In a competitive market, oil should be supplied by all producers roughly in accordance with their geological reserves and marginal costs. There is something profoundly wrong when the United States, which sits atop barely two percent of global conventional oil reserves, produces more barrels per day than Saudi Arabia, a country with reserves ten times bigger”, concluding finally that “

China hacks Australia

29/05/2013

As already been noted before, China has been actively attacking America through cyber attacks, with a private sector report issued recently, further attacks on America and as well as others. The US Government has taken countermeasures  followed by a formalpublic denunciation from the administration itself. Not content with that however China has hacked Australia with blueprints to the new intelligence headquarters in Canberra being stolen that was traced to a server in China, “Foreign Minister Bob Carr says a report alleging Chinese hackers stole plans for Australia’s new intelligence hub will not hit ties with Beijing. On Monday the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported blueprints setting out the building’s cable layouts and security systems had been illegally accessed by a server in China. Mr Carr did not comment directly on the claims. But he said the government was “very alive” to cyber security threats”.

Chinese drones

27/05/2013

An article in Foreign Affairs discusses how China has adopted drone technology. It has been mentioned here before that many countries have drones.

The piece begins noting “Indeed, the time to fret about when China and other authoritarian countries will acquire drones is over: they have them. The question now is when and how they will use them. But as with its other, less exotic military capabilities, Beijing has cleared only a technological hurdle — and its behaviour will continue to be constrained by politics”.

It goes on to add “China has been developing a drone capacity for over half a century, starting with its reverse engineering of Soviet Lavochkin La-17C target drones that it had received from Moscow in the late 1950s. Today, Beijing’s opacity makes it difficult to gauge the exact scale of the program, but according to Ian Easton, an analyst at the Project 2049 Institute, by 2011 China’s air force alone had over 280 combat drones. In other words, its fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles is already bigger and more sophisticated than all but the United States’; in this relatively new field Beijing is less of a newcomer and more of a fast follower. And the force will only become more effective: the Lijian (“sharp sword” in Chinese), a combat drone in the final stages of development, will make China one of the very few states that have or are building a stealth drone capacity. This impressive arsenal may tempt China to pull the trigger. The fact that a Chinese official acknowledged that Beijing had considered using drones to eliminate the Burmese drug trafficker, Naw Kham, made clear that it would not be out of the question for China to launch a drone strike in a security operation against a nonstate actor. Meanwhile, as China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors have escalated, there is a chance that Beijing would introduce unmanned aircraft, especially since India, the Philippines, and Vietnam distantly trail China in drone funding and capacity, and would find it difficult to compete. Beijing is already using drones to photograph the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands it disputes with Japan, as the retired Chinese Major General Peng Guangqian revealed earlier this year, and to keep an eye on movements near the North Korean border”.

The authors note “With its leaders attempting to allay notions that China’s rise poses a threat to the region, injecting drones conspicuously into these disputes would prove counterproductive. China also fears setting a precedent for the use of drones in East Asian hotspots that the United States could eventually exploit. For now, Beijing is showing that it understands these risks, and to date it has limited its use of drones in these areas to surveillance, according to recent public statements from China’s Defense Ministry. What about using drones outside of Chinese-claimed areas? That China did not, in fact, launch a drone strike on the Burmese drug criminal underscores its caution”.

Yet, what they do not mention is the distinct possibility of using drones on their own people. It could be very easy to see a situation where protests in China’s northern regions, where there have already been signs of unrest. While America has ruled out using drones on its own people China would almost certainly have no qualms, if it can get away with it.

Interestingly the writers then mention”The restrictive position that Beijing takes on sovereignty in international forums will further constrain its use of drones. China is not likely to publicly deploy drones for precision strikes or in other military assignments without first having been granted a credible mandate to do so. The gold standard of such an authorization is a resolution passed by the UN Security Council, the stamp of approval that has permitted Chinese humanitarian interventions in Africa and antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. China might consider using drones abroad with some sort of regional authorization, such as a country giving Beijing explicit permission to launch a drone strike within its territory. But even with the endorsement of the international community or specific states, China would have to weigh any benefits of a drone strike abroad against the potential for mishaps and perceptions that it was infringing on other countries’ sovereignty — something Beijing regularly decries when others do it”.

They end the piece “Domestic surveillance by drones is a different issue; there should be few barriers to its application in what is already one of the world’s most heavily policed societies. China might also be willing to use stealth drones in foreign airspace without authorization if the risk of detection were low enough; it already deploys intelligence-gathering ships in the exclusive economic zones of Japan and the United States, as well as in the Indian Ocean. Still, although China enjoys a rapidly expanding and cutting-edge drone fleet, it is bound by the same rules of the game as the rest of the military’s tools”.

However, what is uncertain is to what extent China will keep these rules.

To arm, or not to arm?

27/05/2013

EU foreign ministers are discussing UK and French calls to ease sanctions so Syria rebels can be supplied with arms. France and the UK argue that the move would push Damascus towards a political solution, but some EU states oppose it. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are also holding talks on the conflict. Meanwhile French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there were ‘growing suspicions’ of ‘localised’ chemical weapons use in Syria. Mr Fabius said the evidence needed ‘very detailed verification’. ‘We are consulting with our partners to examine what specific consequences to draw,’ he added”.

Fewer strikes

27/05/2013

After the recent speech by President Obama on the future of the drone programme an article in the New York Times n0tes that there has been a decline in drone strikes.

It begins noting “lost in the contentious debate over the legality, morality and effectiveness of a novel weapon is the fact that the number of strikes has actually been in decline. Strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010 and have fallen sharply since then; their pace in Yemen has slowed to half of last year’s rate; and no strike has been reported in Somalia for more than a year”.

The piece goes on to add “urrent and former officials say the reasons include a shrinking list of important Qaeda targets, a result of the success of past strikes, and transient factors ranging from bad weather to diplomatic strains. But more broadly, the decline may reflect a changing calculation of the long-term costs and benefits of targeted killings. Obama administration officials have sometimes contrasted the drone program’s relative precision, economy and safety for Americans with the huge costs in lives and money of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over time, however, the costs of the drone strikes themselves have become more evident. Reports of innocent civilians killed by drones — whether real or, as American officials often assert, exaggerated — have shaken the claims of precise targeting”.

The article then mentions “a growing list of former senior Bush and Obama administration security officials have expressed concern that the short-term gains of drone strikes in eliminating specific militants may be outweighed by long-term strategic costs. Among the cautionary voices are Michael V. Hayden, who as C.I.A. director in 2008 oversaw the first escalation of strikes in Pakistan; Stanley A. McChrystal, the retired general who commanded American forces in Afghanistan; James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Dennis C. Blair, the former director of national intelligence. ‘I think the strikes have been tremendously effective,’ said Mr. Hayden, a retired Air Force general, who said he was speaking generally and not discussing any particular operation. “But circumstances change. We’re in a much safer place than we were before, and maybe it’s time to recalibrate.” Mr. Hayden said that through 2008, the ‘first-order effect of these operations — that a dangerous man is dead’ was viewed as so important that other consequences were set aside. But with a diminished terrorist threat, he said, the negative effects of the strikes deserve greater consideration. Among them, he said, were alienating the leadership of countries where the strikes occur; losing intelligence from allies whose laws prohibit support for targeted killings; an eroding political consensus in the United States”.

Aside from the legality of the strikes which have been discussed here before, the concerns raised that the strikes are “alienating” the leadership in countries where the strikes occur. Similar arguments such as the drones recruit terrorists are also used yet until the governments that support, or in some cases aid terrorists help in combating them through better infrastructure, jobs, schools and other related programmes America has the right to defend its interests in any way it sees fit. With regard to the charge that drones recruit terrorists, it seems simplistic, at best. Many of those who join these groups are already disaffected and disengaged and therefore critics of drones use whatever arguments they can to attempt to discredit what is still one of the most highly effective weapons used to combat people that would otherwise pose a grave risk to Western interests.

The piece concludes “Tracing the rise and decline of strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, it is possible to correlate some of the numbers with shifting political conditions. In Pakistan, for instance, the C.I.A. has cut back on strikes as relations have grown strained — after the arrest of a C.I.A. contractor, Raymond Davis, in January 2011, for example, and after the incursion of a SEAL team to kill Osama bin Laden in May 2011. A recent hiatus in strikes in Pakistan may have been prompted by the desire not to fuel anti-American sentiments during the campaign before the May 11 general elections. Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst and Brookings Institution scholar, said there were many reasons for the declining number of strikes in Pakistan. ‘But a growing awareness of the cost of drone strikes in U.S.-Pakistan relations is probably at the top of the list,’ Mr. Riedel said. ‘They are deadly to any hope of reversing the downward slide in ties with the fastest growing nuclear weapons state in the world.’ In Yemen, strikes rose sharply last year as the United States supported efforts by Yemeni authorities to reclaim territory taken over by the local Al Qaeda branch and its supporters in the tumultuous aftermath of the Arab Spring, said Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks the strikes. The numbers have declined since, and there were no strikes at all in Yemen in February or March”.

Legally entitled?

27/05/2013

“Is Pakistan legally entitled to shoot down U.S. drones that enter its territory? The short answer is yes. Unless it has consented to the use of drones in its territory, Pakistan most certainly can shoot them down as a matter of international law.  He adds, “Assuming then that consent has not been given by Pakistan, the use of drones in its territory would prima facie be an illegal use of force against a sovereign nation. Pakistan would thus be well within its rights, under international law, to destroy any drone that crosses into its airspace. Now, here’s where things do get slightly complicated. Sometimes when military force is used abroad in countries which have not really attacked the “defending state,” new theories can be innovated to justify such force; and the drone war in Pakistan is no exception. Some U.S. lawyers, including Eric Holder, John Brennan, and John Bellinger have argued that drone strikes in Pakistan are a legal form of ‘self-defense’ because Pakistan is ‘unwilling or unable’ to prevent threats to the United States”.

Iran and Hezbollah, tied losers

27/05/2013

Even as the leader of Hezbollah openly admitted what has been known for a long time, that his organisation is participating in the Syrian conflict, more and more it looks as if Iran is losing from what is going on in one of its only regional allies.

The article notes “By supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the hilt, Hezbollah and Iran are risking their hard-won reputation as stewards of an anti-Israel and anti-U.S. alliance that transcends sect and nationality. Syrian combatants increasingly understand the war in sectarian terms: On one side there is the Sunni majority; on the other side, other sects and a small group of Sunnis that have made common cause with the Alawite regime. Western diplomats estimate that a few thousand Hezbollah fighters are involved in the Syrian fighting. Close observers of the group, which carefully guards its operational structure, say that they mistrust any precise numbers. But if Hezbollah has sent hundreds, or even a few thousand, of its best-trained fighters to Syria, that deployment certainly represents a significant percentage of its fighting force. During its 2006 war with Israel, the highest estimate of Hezbollah fighters killed was about 700, with the group’s own official death toll closer to 300″.

He writes that only a decade ago there was talk of a Shiite Cresent from Iran through to Iraq and on to Syria, yet now all that is over. He argues “Today, Iran’s involvement in Syria has all the makings of a quagmire, and certainly represents the Islamic Republic’s biggest strategic setback in the region since its war with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ended in 1988. Syria’s conflict has begun to attract so much attention and resources that it threatens to end the era when Iran could nimbly outmaneuver the slow-moving American behemoth in the Middle East. Iran — already reeling from sanctions — is spending hundreds of millions of dollars propping up Bashar al-Assad’s regime. In the murky arena of sub rosa foreign intervention, it’s impossible to keep a detailed count of the dollars, guns, and operatives the Islamic Republic has dispatched to Syria. Westerners and Arab officials who have met in recent months with Syrian government ministers say that Iranian advisers are retooling key ministries to provide copious military training”.

He makes the valid point that Iran “burden today is probably bearable. But as sanctions squeeze Iran and it comes under increasing pressure over its nuclear program, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) might find the investment harder to sustain. The conflict shows no signs of ending, and as foreign aid to the rebels escalates, Iran will have to pour in more and more resources simply to maintain a stalemate. If this is Iran’s Vietnam, we’re only beginning year three. The cost of Tehran’s support of Assad can’t entirely be measured in dollars. Iran has had to sacrifice most of its other Arab allies on the Syrian altar. As the violence worsened, Hamas gave up its home in Damascus and its warm relationship with Tehran. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government has also adopted a scolding tone toward Iran on Syria. On Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy’s first visit to Tehran, he took the opportunity to blast the “oppressive regime” in Damascus, saying it was an “ethical duty” to support the opposition. Gone are the days when Iran held the mantle of popular resistance”.

He ends the piece, “perhaps most importantly, Iran’s commitment to Assad has put the crown jewel of its assets in the Arab world, Hezbollah, in danger. Just a few years ago, a survey found that Nasrallah was the most popular leader in the Arab world. Along with other members of the “resistance axis,” Hezbollah mocked the rest of the Arab world’s political movements as toadies and collaborators, happy to submit to American-Israeli hegemony. Today, however, it has sacrificed this popular support and enraged Sunnis across the Arab world by siding with a merciless dictator. Hezbollah used to try to cultivate allies from all sects, so that it wouldn’t seem to be pursuing a purely Shiite agenda, but it now appears in the eyes of the Arab world to have cast its lot — hook, line, and sinker — with a brutal minority regime in Syria over a popular, largely Islamist movement. A Pew survey last year found that the group’s popularity was declining in predominantly Sunni countries such as Egypt and Jordan, while Lebanese Sunnis and Christians also increasingly soured on the party”.

“Hundreds of new centrifuges”

25/05/2013

Iran has installed hundreds of new centrifuges at its Natanz plant, the UN’s atomic agency says in a report. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had installed almost 700 advanced IR2m centrifuges at the plant, compared with 180 in February. It again expressed concern about the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear programme. But it said there had not been much growth of the most sensitive nuclear material – uranium enriched to 20%. Tehran insists its enrichment activities are solely for civilian purposes, while the international community suspects Iran wants to be able to build nuclear weapons”.

Reforming the drone programme

25/05/2013

In light of the announcement that President Obama is to reform the drone programme, with the new policies. The New York Times mentions, “As part of the shift in approach, the administration on Wednesday formally acknowledged for the first time that it had killed four American citizens in drone strikes outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, arguing that its actions were justified by the danger to the United States. Mr. Obama approved providing new information to Congress and the public about the rules governing his attacks on Al Qaeda and its allies. A new classified policy guidance signed by Mr. Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not over”.

The article adds, “Lethal force will be used only against targets who pose ‘a continuing, imminent threat to Americans’ and cannot feasibly be captured, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter to Congress, suggesting that threats to a partner like Afghanistan or Yemen alone would not be enough to justify being targeted. The standard could signal an end to ‘signature strikes,’ or attacks on groups of unknown men based only on their presumed status as members of Al Qaeda or some other enemy group — an approach that administration critics say has resulted in many civilian casualties. In effect, this appears to be a step away from the less restricted use of force allowed in war zones and toward the more limited use of force for self-defense allowed outside of armed conflict”.

An piece in the Washington Post mentions “Far from repudiating the controversial use of drones against terrorist targets, Obama defended the tactic as effective, legal and life-saving. But he acknowledged that threat levels have fallen to levels not seen since before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, requiring new criteria for the use of lethal force”. Interestingly the article adds that “even while declaring that “this war, like all wars, must end,” Obama made clear that other pieces of the nation’s counterterrorism apparatus will remain in place, including targeted killings with drones. He made no mention of ending the CIA’s involvement in the drone campaign. Obama’s remarks followed a pledge in his State of the Union address in January to make his counterterrorism policies — particularly about drones — more transparent and accountable to Congress and the American public”.

Several commentators have voiced their views on the subject. Rosa Brooks who has spoken about the benefits of drones but also the supposedly difficult legal implications has written in a piece in Foreign Policy that opens noting “The single most important point he made was this: The drone and special operations war should not and will not last forever — and we need to find concrete ways to bring it to an end, not expand it. Specifically, the president pledged to engage Congress to refine and ultimately repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and said expressly that he will not sign any laws that seek to expand the existing mandate to use force. He acknowledged that the threat posed by terrorist groups today — not just the threat posed by ‘core’ al Qaeda, but by terrorists in general — is, while real, not on the 9/11 scale. Today, he said, the threat is more like what it was throughout the 80s and 90s. He also — for the first time, I think — directly acknowledged the deeper rule-of-law concerns underlying the debate about targeted killing. He took a firm stand against the “all terrorists must be eliminated by force” school of thought, stating that ‘not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation-states.'”

However, Brooks seems to imply that President Obama was part of the kill all terrorists “school of thought”, something which is patently false and wildly oversimplistic as he and many others have long sought to improve nations like Iraq and Afghanistan. This more than anything else will be the victory that America fought for, if these countries were a little less corrupt, better governed and better educated. The wars the involved these nations with America were brought on by there lack of any kind of meaningful reforms that improved the lives of the average citizens.

Brooks goes on to write “In today’s speech, the president didn’t address what constitutes an ‘associated force,’ but in some ways it doesn’t matter. He implied that although we remain in an armed conflict with al Qaeda and its associates, the rules governing use of force will, outside of Afghanistan, be the rules associated not with the law of armed conflict but with the international law on self-defense. If that is the case, defining ‘associates’ doesn’t matter that much, because — as the president indicated today — the policy is that mere membership in a group affiliated with al Qaeda or the Taliban is not sufficient to make a person targetable. The focus shifts to ‘imminent’ threat. I don’t know if this is a change from previous policy or simply the first clear statement of existing policy, but it’s an important clarification. In his speech, the president agreed that we will strike only those who “pose a continuing and imminent threat.” A fact sheet distributed today by the White House was more explicit”.

Noted CIA field agent, Philip Mudd offers a staunch defence of the drone programme, not in response to Brooks but rather from a strictly operational point of view. He argues that “The impact of armed drones during the decade-plus of this intense global counterterrorism campaign is hard to overestimate: Without operational commanders and visionary leaders, terror groups decay into locally focused threats, or disappear altogether. Targeted strikes against al Qaeda leaders and commanders in the years immediately after 9/11 deprived the group of the time and stability required to plot a major strike”.

He makes the vital point “So-called signature strikes — in which target selection is based not on identification of an individual but instead on patterns of behavior or unique characteristics that identify a group — accelerated this decline for simple reasons. Targeting leadership degrades a small percentage of a diffuse terror group, but developing the tactical intelligence required to locate an individual precisely enough to stage a pinpoint strike, in a no-man’s land half a world away, is time-consuming and difficult. And it’s not a perfect science; the leaders of groups learn over time how to operate more securely. Furthermore, these leaders represent only a fraction of the threat: Osama bin Laden might have been the public face of al Qaeda, but he was supported by a web of document-forgers, bombmakers, couriers, trainers, ideologues, and others. They made up the bulk of al Qaeda and propelled the apparatus that planned the murder of innocents. Bin Laden was the revolutionary leader, but it was the troops who executed his vision. Signature strikes have pulled out these lower-level threads of al Qaeda’s apparatus — and that of its global affiliates — rapidly enough that the deaths of top leaders are now more than matched by the destruction of the complex support structure below them”.

He goes on to argue persuasively that “rough lines of communication and fuzzy networks that cross continents and groups. They are hard to map cleanly, in other words. Signature strikes take out whole swaths of these network sub-tiers rapidly — so rapidly that the groups cannot replicate lost players and their hard-won experience. The tempo of the strikes, in other words, adds sand to the gears of terror organizations, destroying their operational capability faster than the groups can recover”.

In a different piece James Traub correctly points out “Men and women on the street of the Islamic world often say that they feel helpless in the face of American power — but in President Barack Obama’s decision to restrict the use of drones they won a victory which the administration’s domestic critics could never have achieved. As Obama pointed out in his speech, drones do an incredibly effective job of killing America’s adversaries, do not violate the laws of war, and — a fact he didn’t adduce — enjoy the overwhelming support of the American people. Obama was reacting to public opinion — but less in the United States than in Pakistan or Yemen”.

He adds making the vital point and failed logic of Obama’s reasoning,”What Obama said in his speech was that the reduced threat from al Qaeda — thanks in part to the use of drone warfare — means that the United States no longer needs to incur this cost”.

Traub goes on to add a layer of historical analogy to his argument, “In the past, America has deployed weapons whose effect on civilian populations has been immeasurably greater than even the highest estimate of collateral damage caused by drone strikes, whether carpet bombing in World War II or napalm in Vietnam (or, of course, the atomic bombs dropped on Japan). Some Americans recoiled from the moral horror of these devices, but presidents did not think to end or limit their use for strategic reasons”.

He then goes on to write that this era is over, by citing the usual increasingly interconnected argument. Yet, like many other new developments this has been overstated.

He then notes “The three studies he cites estimate civilian deaths at 5 percent, 7 percent, and 23 percent of the total. According to a report from the New America Foundation, the civilian death rate has declined sharply since 2008 and is now very close to zero. Drones work; and yet Pakistanis hate them. A 2012 poll of Pakistanis found that only 17 percent of respondents would support drone strikes even if carried out with their government’s cooperation. The same poll found that disapproval of U.S. policies has grown every year since Barack Obama became president, a finding that may have something to do with the steady growth of drone strikes, at least until the last year”, but adds later that Pakistan is a democracy, yet one successful(ish) election does not make the country a democracy, it has a legion of other problems that have been documented here before.

Traub ends the piece arguing that Pakistan both complains publicly about drone strikes but at the same time allows them to take place. He ends the piece “are indispensable weapons whose eerie effectiveness infuriates people, and thus harms U.S. national interests. President Obama has found that he can’t live with them and can’t live without them. Now he has tried to split the difference”.

Disqualified

23/05/2013

Iran’s Guardian Council disqualified former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, an aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, from running for president. The council didn’t explain its decisions, but it generally examines loyalty to the Iranian Revolution, Islam and the Supreme Leader. The council approved eight names for the ballot for presidential elections on June 14, Iranian state-run television reported late Tuesday. The names include six ultraconservatives loyal to the regime and two centrist candidates associated with the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami, who preceded Mr. Ahmadinejad. Two of Mr. Khamenei’s top advisers were among the names approved Tuesday: nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati. Iranian analysts and commentators have long speculated that only candidates with Mr. Khamenei’s full support, appearing subservient to his will, would be positioned to succeed Mr. Ahmadinejad”.

Moving to independence

23/05/2013

After blundering from the central government in Baghdad, the Kurdish region has gained a host of oil companies wanting to escape the onerous terms from Baghdad. An article from the Economist last April discusses the Kurdish question further.

The article begins “The relative order, security and wealth enjoyed by the 5m residents of Iraq’s three Kurdish provinces are the envy of the remaining 25m who live in the battered bulk of Iraq, and of others too. Since 2011 some 130,000 Syrian refugees, nearly all of them ethnic Kurds, have been welcomed in as brothers; the UN says that number could reach 350,000 by the year’s end. From the east come Iranian Kurds eager to work on the building sites that bristle across a territory the size of Switzerland. From the north come plane-loads of Turkish businessmen seeking profit from a land so rich in oil that its sweet, cloying smell hangs everywhere. Iraq is now Turkey’s second export market after Germany, with 70% of that trade directed to the Kurdish part; 4,000 trucks cross the border daily”.

The article notes that formal independence  “To Kurdish eyes this would mean keeping control of land that technically lies outside the three provinces recognised throughout Iraq as Kurdish, and in particular the multi-ethnic but historically Kurdish-tinted city of Kirkuk”.

Interestingly the piece adds that “most Kurds accept that patience has paid off, so far. Iraq’s American protectors have kept other foreign powers at bay. The KRG receives 17% of the Iraqi federal budget, now a hefty sum thanks to Iraq’s growing oil exports (though the Kurds’ share comes after a 30% deduction for “sovereign” Iraqi expenses). Since the American-led invasion in 2003 Iraqi Kurds have rebuilt villages, raised GDP per person tenfold, maintained law and order and turned the peshmerga into a formidable army. Daily blackouts may plague Baghdad, but the KRG exports surplus power to adjacent Iraqi towns. Divided at home, the Kurds have united to deal successfully with the federal government, securing good terms in the 2005 constitution and high office in the capital”.

The article mentions that a move to Kurdish independence is if not near, than coming, “One of these is the dismal state of the rest of Iraq. Battered by al-Qaeda bombings and worried by the likely fall of Syria’s pro-Shia government, a growing number of Iraqi Shias whisper that they should let the Kurds go, better to control what remains. Meanwhile Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s increasingly dictatorial prime minister, has grown more confrontational towards the Kurds. In December he sent troops to Kirkuk, prompting the KRG to mobilise the peshmerga. In March, over Kurdish objections, the federal parliament passed a $118-billion budget that allotted just $650m to pay what the KRG claims is a $3.5 billion debt it owes foreign oil companies. The angry Kurds withdrew their federal ministers and MPs. They now have no official representation in Baghdad; Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s Kurdish president, whose easy-going charm has often soothed troubles, has been ill in Germany since December. Whatever the current desires of politicians, oil finds may redraw Iraq’s borders. The Kurds say Iraq’s constitution frees autonomous regions to develop new fields, and have attracted big foreign firms with production-sharing deals that let them book reserves as assets. Baghdad says these are illegal; oil is the property of the people and all revenues must go to the central state. It is annoyed, too, that some of the 50-odd deals signed by the KRG fall in disputed territory”.

The piece adds that at 45 billion barrels, Kurdish production is rising quickly. The piece says that “It should reach 1m barrels a day by 2015 and possibly 2m by 2020, says an executive at Genel, a British-Turkish firm that is Kurdistan’s biggest operator”.

A further reason for independence is the fact that, as the piece says, “Squabbles with Baghdad have led to repeated shutdowns of the main pipeline to Turkey, but growing volumes go by tanker truck, solidifying a budding Kurdish-Turkish alliance that would have shocked both peoples only a few years ago. The KRG expects a pipeline to Turkey to be complete by September. Turkey, meanwhile, is keen to diversify away from reliance on Iran and Russia. It helps, too, that many of Turkey’s energy firms are politically close to the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party, which has, not coincidentally, lately made headway in securing peace with Turkey’s own Kurds”.
The article ends, grimly, “Maliki tends to see Turkey through sectarian lenses as a meddling Sunni behemoth. If Kurdistan secures independent oil wealth, other parts of Iraq could follow. This is a fear shared, oddly enough, by Iraq’s two biggest allies, Iran and the United States. The Americans have repeatedly moved to curb Kurdish ambitions while encouraging Baghdad to accommodate them. But the prize for both Kurds and Turks is starting to look too big for Iraq’s future to be settled with yet fuzzier compromises”.

“No other option”

23/05/2013

Days after his faction of the Pakistan Muslim League swept to victory in the parliamentary  polls, Nawaz Sharif told newly elected lawmakers on Monday that there was no other option except to negotiate with the Taliban in the interest of peace. Alluding to the outlawed group’s peace overtures before the election, Nawaz said the Taliban invitation for dialogue should be taken seriously. Speaking about the strategy evolved by his party vis-a-vis the Taliban, Nawaz said, “The bullet is not a solution”. “We want to use each and every option; every issue has to be brought on the [negotiating] table for a solution.” Pakistan, according to Nawaz, has no other option apart from engaging the Taliban in talks”.

A bad week for Cameron

21/05/2013

British PM David Cameron has had a bad week. After the State Opening of Parliament the Queen’s speech quickly unraveled and then another rebellion took place by his own backbenchers with 50 voting against the government bill to allow gay marriage.

After the Queen’s Speech “116 Tory backbenchers voted for an amendment which criticised the Queen’s Speech for its lack of a government Bill paving the way for the promised “in/out” referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU”. Reports note that “Downing Street said the Prime Minister is “relaxed” about allowing senior Tories to register their criticism of the Government’s entire legislative agenda by voting alongside EU rebels in the Commons. Mr Cameron’s latest attempt to placate Conservative Right-wingers came as Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said the UK should be ‘ready to walk away’ from the EU. And in a further sign of growing pressure on Mr Cameron over the issue, Lord Lamont, the former Chancellor, became the latest Tory grandee to call for Britain to withdraw from the EU if its membership cannot be renegotiated to put it on a purely commercial basis”.

The piece adds “The rebel amendment states that the House ‘respectfully regrets that an EU referendum bill was not included in the Queen’s Speech’. The vote, which would be largely symbolic, is expected next week if the amendment is called for debate by John Bercow, the Commons Speaker. Mr Cameron is not expected to vote as he will be out of the country next week. However, following next week’s debate, backbenchers intend to table a private members’ bill on the issue of an EU referendum. Downing Street sources indicated yesterday that MPs and ministers may be allowed to vote for that bill as well, raising the prospect of the Commons voting over laws to provide a referendum in the next Parliament. The Prime Minister’s apparent willingness to allow MPs and ministers to join rebels will be seen as further evidence of the growing unease in the Tory Party over the threat from the UK Independence Party”.

However, in reality Cameron had little choice but to allow his MPs to back the move, albeit, in the knowledge that it would probably be defeated. If he did not allow it he would have had an even bigger problem on his hands, therefore allowing his MPs to rebel was the least worst option.

Then things got worse when the government was trying to pass a bill allowing gay marriage. Reports note that “The Coalition avoided embarrassment after a last-minute deal with Labour to save the bill. Some 56 Conservative backbenchers – half the number predicted – backed a backbencher’s amendment the Government warned could fatally delay the reform. Eight Labour MPs, three Liberal Democrats and three SDLP members joined the Tory critics in the voting lobbies. But the move to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples was easily defeated in a free vote by a large majority of 370. David Cameron was given a lifeline yesterday after Ed Miliband decided to save the bill by tabling an amendment which would mean an immediate consultation on extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.”

The piece adds “Tim Loughton, a former Tory minister, accused ministers of doing a “grubby deal” with Labour to see off his amendment and said the battle would continue in the upper chamber. The Conservative leadership remains under fire from many senior party members vehemently opposed to the measure. One councillor last night accused ministers of showing ‘clear contempt for the deeply-held views of Conservative supporters’ and fuelling an exodus to the UK Independence Party. Culture Secretary Maria Miller defended the Government’s tactics insisting there was “overwhelming support” for the change, including among significant numbers in her own party. Mrs Miller had argued that extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples – supported in principle by many backers of gay marriage – would cause significant delays and costs”.

Another article mentions “Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats back the idea of civil partnerships for all. However, they have agreed to vote with Mr Cameron’s Conservative leadership to make sure the laws to legalise gay marriage are not hijacked or stalled. In return for the other parties’ rejection of the “wrecking” amendment, Mr Cameron looks set to support a Labour plan for an immediate consultation on extending civil partnerships. Previously the Government had only committed to examining this option after five years”.

All of this comes just days after an article was published on Saturday [18th May] where it was reported that a unnamed figure close to Cameron, with a hint that he went to Eton, called the grassroots of the party, “swivel eyed loons”. In an obvious effort to calm tensions Cameron sent a letter to party grassroots. An article notes “he Prime Minister tonight sent a ‘personal message’ to thousands of party volunteers, insisting that despite their differences over Europe and gay marriage, the leadership and the party had ‘a deep and lasting friendship’. Mr Cameron’s email was his first comment since The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers disclosed on Saturday that a member of his inner circle had described Conservative association members as ‘mad, swivel-eyed loons’.The Prime Minister did not refer explicitly to the remark, but insisted that he admired and respected his party’s activists.

These scandals will pass, yet the issue as many see as the problem is not the problem at all. The United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, has campaigned for decades to leave the EU. The local elections that took place recently also gave the party its best showing ever, has lent the party and air of prominence it does not normally have.

Some have said that the end of the unity on the Right has gone forever, “Suddenly, a significant chunk of conservative opinion is rejecting this historically successful approach. It is nothing like a majority, but it is a large proportion and it is starting to feel as though the split may be irrevocable. In part, this is Mr Cameron’s fault. He was so determined to attract new supporters – a noble and necessary aim – that he became careless about the feelings of his party’s existing voters. The Prime Minister’s casual decision to pick a fight on gay marriage with so many Tory members reinforced the idea that he does not like or respect the traditional wing. On the back of it, Ukip membership is rising (next stop 30,000) and Conservative membership looks likely to dip below 100,000. Describing those left in the Tory fold as “swivel-eyed lunatics” can only speed up the process. Worse, Mr Cameron has made these mistakes at just the moment when public contempt for existing institutions and professional politicians has boiled over. This has given the populist Mr Farage the most tremendous opportunity. Last night his party surged to 22 per cent in the latest poll, just two points behind the Tories”.

Yet this would be to misread the situation. The Tories lost seats in the local elections due to a bad economy and dissatisfaction with the state of British politics generally. The surge in UKIP support therefore was little more than a protest vote by the disaffected Right, and the generally disaffected. It should not be read as anything other than a temporary passing, largely due to the unfair situation of the UK having a two party voting system but more than two parties. This will ensure UKIP remain an outlier for years to come.

Israel fires on Syria

21/05/2013

“Israeli troops shot at a target across the Syrian frontier on Tuesday in response to gunfire that struck its forces in the Golan Heights, the Israeli military said. A statement said a military vehicle was damaged by shots fired from Syria but that there were no injuries. It said that soldiers “returned precise fire”. Gunfire incidents across the frontier from Syria have recurred in past months during an escalating a civil war there in which rebels have sought to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Israel’s Army Radio said Tuesday’s was the third consecutive cross-border shooting this week”.

Chinese military VI

21/05/2013

In the final article in the series on the state of the Chinese military, that has dealt with the general state of the PLA, its corruption, its equipment, the response from the rest of Asia, its red tape and now its cyber capabilities.

It has already been noted that China has been actively attacking America, with a private sector report issued recently, further attacks on America and South Korea, countermeasures taken by the US Government, and then a public denunciation from the administration itself.

The article opens “As the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress, released last week, makes abundantly clear, China is on something of a long march in cyberspace. While most attention is being drawn to the report’s assertions about Chinese snooping into sensitive classified areas and theft of intellectual property from leading American firms — and others around the world — there is some intriguing analysis of Beijing’s broader aims as well. Indeed, the Pentagon sees a clear progression in Chinese strategic thought that, viewed as a whole, begins to elaborate what might be seen as an emerging military doctrine enabled by advanced information technologies”.

He writes “The Pentagon report describes this as a three-phase process. First, there is a ‘focus on exfiltrating data’ so as to gain vital information needed about military command and control systems as well as the points in our critical infrastructure that are vulnerable to disruption by means of cyberattack. It is believed that the Chinese have been engaging in this sort of intelligence gathering for many years — intrusions that Washington first openly acknowledged 10 years ago, giving them the code name ‘Titan Rain.’ It has been raining steadily for the past decade. With all these data in hand, the second step — per the Pentagon report — is to use the same intrusive means that mapped our defense information systems to disrupt them with worms, viruses, and an assortment of other attack tools. The goal at this point is to slow the U.S. military’s ability to respond to a burgeoning crisis or an ongoing conflict. Think of what might happen, say, on the Korean Peninsula, if our small contingent there — a little over 25,000 troops — were to lose its connectivity at the outset of a North Korean invasion by its million-man army. Without the ability to operate more nimbly than the attacker, these forces would be hard-pressed from the outset”.

He then describes the third phase which he says is where China has the most to gain, “This is the point at which the information advantage — that is, the ability to coordinate one’s own field operations while the adversary’s have been completely disrupted — is translated into material results in battle. The Pentagon describes cyberattack at this point as amounting to a major “force multiplier.” Gaining such advantage means winning campaigns and battles with fewer casualties relative to those inflicted upon the enemy. In this respect, computer-driven “bitskrieg” could, it is thought, generate results like those attained by mechanized blitzkriegs — which also aimed at disrupting communications”.

He ends the piece “To succeed at cyberwar, it will be necessary both to scale down large units into small ones and “scale them out” across the battlespace rather than mass them together. In this fashion — spread out but completely linked and able to act as one — the sweeping maneuvers of blitzkrieg will be supplanted by the swarming attacks of bitskrieg, characterized by the ability to mount simultaneous strikes from many directions. The guiding organizational concept for this new approach flows closely from technologist David Weinberger’s thoughtful description of online networks: “small pieces, loosely joined.” Thus should the Pentagon annual report to Congress be delved into more deeply — for the document reflects a clear awareness of, and takes a subtle, layered approach to thinking about, the Chinese cyber threat. One can only hope that the U.S. military analysis of Beijing’s looming capacity for bitskrieg is mirrored by introspective views and similarly nuanced considerations of American capacities for waging cyberwar”.

Blame the Zionists

21/05/2013

The Venezuelan opposition on Monday released a recording of what it says is a conversation between Mario Silva, a prominent Venezuelan television host and a favorite of the late Hugo Chávez, and a Cuban intelligence officer, in which Silva details a feud within the government between Chávez loyalists and Diosdado Cabello, the president of the National Assembly. In the conversation with Aramis Palacios, a lieutenant colonel in the G2, the Cuban intelligence agency, Silva, the host of the state television program “La Hojilla,” describes a government deeply divided against itself, with rival factions competing for power amid rampant corruption. The conversation was allegedly recorded for the benefit of Cuban President Raúl Castro, but its authenticity has not been independently verified. Writing on Twitter, Silva dismissed the recording as a Zionist plot”.

A test of Pakistani democracy

21/05/2013

Following the Pakistani general election and the election of Nawaz Sharif, as prime minister, have led some to comment that Pakistani democracy took a massive step in the right direction after decades of military (mis) rule.  Interestingly it was reported that the head of the army, General “Ashfaq Kayani, who heads Pakistan’s powerful army and holds significant sway over civilian affairs, visited the incoming prime minister Saturday in what the military described as a show of support for stronger democracy and greater stability as the nation struggles with an economic meltdown and continued insurgent attacks. Kayani met for more than three hours with Nawaz Sharif, the ­center-right conservative poised to take over as prime minister for an unprecedented third stint after securing a heavy mandate in May 11 parliamentary elections”. It was Kayani that met secretary of State Kerry and Hamid Karzai for a conference recently, rather than the outgoing PM, or president. The meeting between Kayani and Sharif was hailed as a positive step forward for relations between the powerful military and civilian leaders. In addition to this the head of the notorious ISI has also requested a meeting.

The author starts the piece “Sixty percent of registered voters took part in the elections, the highest number since 1970. These voters — including Pakistan’s traditionally apathetic urban elite — did so despite the very real threat of violence by the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the country’s most powerful terrorist group. Pre-election violence, which took over 100 lives, and terrorist attacks on the day of the polls in Karachi, Peshawar, and elsewhere, did little to deter voters. The high turnout, including unusually large numbers of women and young people, was not only a testament to Pakistani resilience, but also a slap in the face of TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, whose group tried to intimidate voters and delegitimise democracy by claiming that it is antithetical to Islam”.

He adds importantly that the “polls were not without their flaws. There were blatant attempts to obstruct voting or rig elections in multiple constituencies in Karachi and elsewhere in the country. On Sunday, Altaf Hussain, the self-exiled London-based leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the political party that dominates Karachi, issued a not-so-veiled threat of violence against peaceful protesters demanding a revote in one of the city’s constituencies. In insurgency-wracked Balochistan, voting irregularities suggested that the military was tinkering with the ballots. At the same time, separatists in the province also waged a terrorist campaign to intimidate candidates”, but he mentions that “Whatever else Pakistanis may disagree on, there appears to be a consensus, at least for now, that democracy is the way forward. The country’s major power brokers — its two largest parties, the army, judiciary, and private media — have been at odds with one another over the past five years, but the chaos has been controlled and all these actors exercised some restraint during the election so as to not derail the democratic process. With the high turnout on election day and enthusiasm that preceded the polls, the public appears to be buying in to the democratic system as well”.

However the most obvious danger is that the Sharif government is unwilling or unable to take on the army/ISI and corrupt vested interests and stalemate ensues. The results of this, while not a certainty would likely point to the possibility of another coup.

As he argues, “the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), which has led the country’s ruling coalition for the past five years, must be given credit for helping instill a culture of consensus-building among Pakistan’s political elite. This traditionally adversarial lot managed to pass three major constitutional amendments that not only involved a significant amount of give and take, but also instituted the electoral reforms that made Saturday’s great turnout possible. On the other hand, the PPP largely failed at managing the country’s economy. While its Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) — which provided cash transfers to low-income families — succeeded at limiting the damage of the economic slowdown on the country’s poor, it did little to boost economic growth”.

The next NSA

21/05/2013

Reports mention that apparently, “U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has become the heir apparent to National Security Advisor Tom Donilon — a post at the epicenter of foreign-policy decision making and arguably more influential than secretary of state, a job for which she withdrew her candidacy last fall amid severe political pressure. ‘It’s definitely happening,’ a source who recently spoke with Rice told The Cable. ‘She is sure she is coming and so too her husband and closest friends.’ ‘Susan is a very likely candidate to replace him whenever he would choose to leave,’ agreed Dennis Ross, a former special assistant to President Obama and counselor at the Washington Institute. ‘She is close to the president, has the credentials, and has a breadth of experience.’ Both sources said the timing of succession was uncertain. ‘I don’t believe Tom Donilon is about to leave but would be surprised if he were to remain for the whole second term,’ Ross said. ‘But in answer to your question, [Rice’s appointment] is very logical.'”

Chinese military V

21/05/2013

In the latest of a series on the Chinese military, an article notes the red tape that hinders Chinese fighter pilots.

John Garnaut writes “Pilots are neither trusted nor properly trained. Drills are regimented, centrally controlled, and divorced from realistic combat conditions. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has nearly 2,000 thousand planes, compared with a little over 3,000 for the U.S. Armed Forces, but only a fraction of the peace-time accident rate, suggesting pilots are not spending sufficient time in the air or training under pressure. While Chinese military enthusiasts saw the Shandong crash as an embarrassing setback, professionals saw it as a small sign that the PLA Air Force might be beginning to take the risks required to develop human “software” to match its expensive hardware and compete with their American, Taiwanese, or Japanese counterparts”.

Garnaut contrasts the highly regimented Chinese air force as exemplified in a Top Gun style film against the US and other Western counterparts, “American and Australian commanders are required to delegate responsibility as far down the chain as possible, and pilots are trained to be trusted to make their own decisions, according to veterans of those systems. They work through endless emergency procedure simulators to internalize key parameters and make instant decisions without need for radio contact. Nothing is hammered into a pilot’s head more deeply than the decision to eject at a set altitude when out of control”.

He goes onto write that “Captain Yue, on the other hand, dutifully obeys the myriad petty orders and then ignores the only one that counts.  “I believe the plane has a soul,” he tells the military tribunal, explaining why he refused to eject as ordered. Not only does he keep his wings, but he receives a standing ovation. The film, a production by the PLA’s August First Film Studio, in collaboration with the Political Department of the PLA Air Force and the Propaganda Department of the Beijing Municipal Government, is not real life. But many of the PLA’s organizational weaknesses depicted in Skyfighters strongly resonate with what professionals observe. The PLA’s highest-profile challenge is to operate its newly revamped Ukrainian aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with indigenously produced planes fitted with reverse-engineered Soviet technology, and fulfill China’s ambitions to project military power offshore. Last week, the Liaoning‘s captain, Zhang Zheng, and Rear Admiral Song Xue briefed defense attachés in Beijing and confirmed an ambition to build bigger carriers with greater capabilities. They also admitted to having only 12 trained pilots for the J-15 fighters they plan to deploy, according to sources who were present, suggesting it may be decades before Chinese carriers are operating effectively at sea”.

Garnaut ends the piece “The U.S. Navy lost a staggering 13,000 aircraft and 9,000 air crew in the four decades after World War II, mostly due to accidents, not enemy fire, as its pilots adjusted to the lethal combination of jet engines and aircraft carriers. Rubel says that much of those losses were due to a U.S. Navy culture where ship captains were naturally conditioned to survive on their wits at sea, and the early navy aviators threw caution to the wind because the chance of death was so high. Both the U.S. Air Force and the Navy established safety centers and procedures. The accident rate plummeted in the Air Force, with its centralized structure and standardized practices, but kept rising in the Navy. It didn’t fully settle down until 1983, when Top Gun was made. China’s learning curve may be even steeper. The challenge of operating battle groups and jet-powered air wings at sea, which took four decades to overcome in the U.S. Navy, is multiplied in a Chinese political system where politics explicitly trumps professionalism in all facets of organized life and there is no transparency or independent institutions to monitor and regulate the game”.

“Give Washington time”

19/05/2013

In a nod to how common debt-limit battles have become in recent years, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Congress Friday he was prepared to deploy the ‘standard set of extraordinary measures.’ On Friday, the Treasury stopped issuing State and Local Government Series securities (SLGS). State and local governments buy the securities as they work to refund municipal bond deals. Issuing those securities takes up space under the debt limit. The Treasury also has the power to halt new investments in federal employee retirement funds, which would be reimbursed once the limit is hiked. It also can stop reinvesting in its Exchange Stabilization Fund used to buy and sell foreign currencies. All these moves can free up billions of dollars the government can use to meet critical bills, and give Washington time to strike a debt-limit compromise. Lew informed Congress that the debt limit would again be in an issue in a letter sent Friday. He told congressional leaders that the Treasury is preparing to employ its extraordinary measures to free up room to maneuver under the cap, and gave a hint as to how long Congress could haggle over raising it before a damaging default

Chinese military IV

19/05/2013

As part of the series studying the Chinese military, and article has been published last month noting that these Chinese military is not as powerful as many would imagine.

The piece begins noting that “as of 2012, military expenditures in East and Southeast Asia are at the lowest they’ve been in 25 years — and very likely the lowest they’ve been in 50 years (although data before 1988 is questionable). While it’s too early to factor in recent tensions, as China’s rise has reshaped the region over the past two decades, East and Southeast Asian states don’t seem to have reacted by building up their own militaries. If there’s an arms race in the region, it’s a contest with just one participant: China. Military expenditures reflect states’ threat perceptions, and reveal how they are planning for both immediate and long-term contingencies. In times of external threat, military priorities take precedence over domestic ones, like social and economic services; in times of relative peace, countries devote a greater share of their economy to domestic priorities. The best way to measure military expenditures is as a percentage of total GDP, because this reflects how much a country could potentially spend. In 1988, as the Cold War was winding down, the six major Southeast Asian states spent an average of almost 3.5 percent of GDP on military expenditures”.

Kang re-enforces the point noting, “only North Korea and Taiwan fear for their survival — almost every other state is more stable and prosperous than it has ever been. (Taiwan’s military spending dropped from 5.3 of GDP in 1988 to 2.3 percent in 2012; there are no good statistics on North Korean military spending.) Even in 1995, after the Soviet Union’s collapse and before the Asian Financial Crisis, average military spending was 2.5 percent of GDP. The drop is not a worldwide phenomenon: Military expenditures in Latin America, for example, hovered around 2 percent of GDP over the last two decades”.

The only exception to this he argues is China, “Beijing’s defense expenditures, measured in 2011 dollars, grew from $18 billion in 1989 to $157 billion by 2012, an increase of over 750 percent. Surprisingly, no East or Southeast Asian countries responded with similar increases in spending. Japanese defense expenditures, constrained by a pacifist constitution, rose from $46 billion in 1988 to $59 billion in 2012, an increase of just 29 percent. South Korea went from $14.4 billion in 1988 to $31 billion in 2012, a relatively small increase of 118 percent, or 4.7 percent a year”.

It is a mistake to assume that just because the rest of Asia is lowering its defence expenditure that they do not fear China, rather a far more plausible explanation is that as a result of Chinese aggression that know that should anything happen, America will step in and act as the purveyor of global order.

However he argues that this is not the case, “Are some states spending so little because they shelter under a U.S. military umbrella? Unlikely. In 2012, countries with a U.S. alliance spent 1.73 percent on defense, almost exactly the same as non-ally countries. And if renewed U.S. security commitments provided a relief to those East Asian countries, military expenditures should have increased in U.S. allies during the years leading up to the pivot, and then decreased afterwards; instead, expenditures fell below two percent in 2000, and stayed there. All states in the region have ample evidence of China’s rising power and ambition, and could easily have begun counterbalancing. China’s wealth, military, and diplomatic influence have grown dramatically since the introduction of reforms in 1978. While the extent of China’s power may have been unclear in the 1980s or 1990s, today China is unquestionably the second most powerful country in the world. If states were going to balance, wouldn’t they have begun by now? Maritime disputes are becoming increasingly acute, and China appears to be growing increasingly aggressive. If East Asian countries start spending more on defense, that will be evidence of their concern. If they don’t, it suggests they are not all that worried”.

Modern day nepotism

19/05/2013

In a highly controversial move, Pope Francis has appointed the rector of the  Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, Fr.Victor Manuel Fernández, 50 as Titular Archbishop of Tiburnia. No previous rector has been appointed a bishop while still serving in office. Archbishop Fernadez will remain in his post as rector of the university.

Clinton’s legacy at State

19/05/2013

An article examines the legacy of Hillary Clinton as secretary of State.

The article opens noting that President Obama said that Clinton was “‘one of the finest secretaries of state we’ve had.'”, the piece goes onto note that Obama’s “Lincolnesque effort to create a team of rivals had paid off, thanks largely to Clinton’s own efforts at reconciliation. During her four years in office, Clinton, displaying impressive humility and self-discipline for an ambitious politician, managed to put one of the fiercest presidential primary battles in U.S. history behind her”.

The author by contrast argues that “By any standard measure of diplomacy, Clinton will be remembered as a highly competent secretary of state, but not a great one. Despite her considerable star power around the world, her popularity at home, and her reputation for being on the right side of most issues, she left office without a signature doctrine, strategy, or diplomatic triumph. It is a stretch to include Clinton in the company of John Quincy Adams, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and Henry Kissinger”.

He acknowledges her new record set by traveling to 112 countries but adds that an administration that wanted to emphasis soft power, at least in public, she did well.  He argues that “her most lasting legacy will likely be the way that she thrust soft diplomacy to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. By speaking out about Internet freedom, women’s rights, public health, and economic issues everywhere she went, Clinton sought to transcend traditional government-to-government contacts. She set out to create — or at least dramatically expand in scope — a new kind of people-to-people diplomacy, one designed to extend Washington’s influence in an Internet-driven world in which popular uprisings”. One such memorable occasion was when she gave a highly publicised speech supporting gay rights.

He rightly contrasts this by noting that she “often played the realist hawk in an administration that started with overconfidence about its president’s transformational powers. In 2009, she allied with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to press for a 30,000-troop surge to address the chaos in Afghanistan, even though the president’s instincts were for a far smaller escalation. Later that year, when Obama had nothing to show for offering an outstretched hand to Tehran (a policy that Clinton had encouraged), she prodded the president into imposing unprecedentedly severe sanctions on Iran. In 2011, she corralled a troupe of advisers, including Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to convince Obama to support a NATO-led intervention in Libya. And it was Clinton’s State Department that was mainly responsible for the administration’s attempt at a strategic “pivot” to Asia, designed largely to counter China’s growing influence”.

He also writes that it was Clinton who “led the way with a historic trip that brought long-isolated Myanmar (also called Burma) into the fold of American partners”.

Her legacy, at least in terms of soft power is as he says, uncertain, “The outcome of the Arab Spring appears to be increasingly Islamist and anti-American, and among the legacies Clinton bequeathed to her successor, John Kerry, is a resurgent jihadist movement in the Arab world”. He credits her for helping US image, especially in Europe but the dangers of this have been warned of here before.

He again praised her for, stressing “that diplomacy and economic development must go hand in hand. She preached that helping partner countries achieve social stability — built on progress on health, food security, and women’s rights — would create stronger alliances and new paths to solving traditional foreign policy problems”.

Interestingly he writes that “A test case for whether the Clinton model of diplomacy can work going forward may be the current turmoil in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak’s successor, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, appears to be wavering in his commitment to democracy. Although Washington deals mainly with Morsi’s government and the Egyptian military, the State Department has fostered ties between nongovernmental organisations in the United States and Egypt that focus on education and development”.

He chastises her noting “although Clinton excelled at soft diplomacy, she shied away from the kind of hard diplomacy that traditionalists identify with foreign policy greatness. One thinks of Adams’ authorship of the Monroe Doctrine and the Transcontinental Treaty with Spain, Acheson’s aggressive championing of containment, Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy between the Arabs and the Israelis and his clever exploitation of the Sino-Soviet split. Some critics have interpreted Clinton’s more modest agenda as stemming from political caution. In a recent assessment, the journalist David Rohde quoted a State Department official who suggested that Clinton’s hesitation to get personally involved in conflicts was related to her future presidential ambitions”.

This is perhaps unfair. It oversimplifies Monroe, Acheson and Kissinger and simplifies Clinton. Secondly, these men were living in simpler times, ie the Cold War, and as a result of the (reasonably) obvious bipolarity in the world there was clarity in the world. Regrettably this is not the case currently.

However, his specific point that Clinton, “happily agreed to leave key negotiations in crisis spots to special envoys, charging George Mitchell with overseeing the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio and relying on Richard Holbrooke to bring about a political settlement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She rarely stepped in as each of them failed to make much headway”.

He then discusses the notion that “Zbigniew Brzezinski, the dean of the Democratic national security establishment, criticized the administration’s foreign policy for being ‘improvisational.’ To be fair, the improvisation was sometimes effective. In one case, Obama and Clinton barged into a meeting at the 2009 global climate change talks in Copenhagen and forced the Chinese president to agree to a nonbinding pact under which rich and poor countries alike pledged to curb their carbon emissions. And last year, Clinton displayed cleverness and agility in negotiating the release of the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng”, but he adds fairly that “The administration failed to anticipate the increasingly Islamist bent of the countries whose regimes were ousted in the Arab Spring, and it has been slow in formulating a coordinated response to the abuses against democracy by Morsi and other Islamist leaders. Instead, Obama appears to be approaching Morsi in much the same realpolitik way he once dealt with Mubarak”.

He mentions the personal distance between the two, “Her distance from Obama, by most accounts, was a source of frustration and disappointment for Clinton, especially at the beginning of her tenure. She likely felt shortchanged by the difference between her original job description and the reality that emerged. In the fall of 2008, when Obama surprised Clinton by asking her to take the job, he told her that he had his hands full with the collapsing economy and needed someone of her global stature to take care of foreign policy. The implication was that Clinton would be the dominant figure. But that never happened. Early in Obama’s first term, a senior aide to Clinton told me that “the biggest issue still unresolved in the Obama administration is, can there be more than one star?” The answer, it soon became clear, was no; the only star was going to be Obama himself”. He adds that things were not helped by Vice-President Biden who served for decades as a senator and for many years as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

He ends the piece “Slow and steady progress is not necessarily the stuff of greatness. But it is valuable nonetheless, and it may be what, in the end, the world will remember most about Clinton’s tenure as the country’s top diplomat”.

Russia’s muscle flexing

19/05/2013

The Wall Street Journal reports “Russia has sent a dozen or more warships to patrol waters near its naval base in Syria, a buildup that U.S. and European officials see as a newly aggressive stance meant partly to warn the West and Israel not to intervene in Syria’s bloody civil war. Russia’s expanded presence in the eastern Mediterranean, which began attracting U.S. officials’ notice three months ago, represents one of its largest sustained naval deployments since the Cold War. While Western officials say they don’t fear an impending conflict with Russia’s aged fleet, the presence adds a new source of potential danger for miscalculation in an increasingly combustible region. ‘It is a show of force. It’s muscle flexing,’ a senior U.S. defense official said of the Russian deployments. ‘It is about demonstrating their commitment to their interests.’ The buildup is seen as Moscow’s way of trying to strengthen its hand in any talks over Syria’s future and buttress its influence in the Middle East. It also provides options for evacuating tens of thousands of Russians still in Syria”.

Sino-American war?

17/05/2013

An article has been published dealing with the possibility of a Chinese-American war. Theorically this is already highly possible as has been elobrated elsewhere.

The article asks, “Are we on the brink of a new Cold War? The question isn’t as outlandish as it seemed only a few years ago. The United States is still the sole reigning superpower, but it is being challenged by the rising power of China”.

It goes on to mention “Or are we entering a new period of diversified global economic cooperation in which the very idea of old-fashioned imperial power politics has become obsolete? Should we see the United States and China as more like France and Germany after World War II, adversaries wise enough to draw together in an increasingly close circle of cooperation that subsumes neighbors and substitutes economic exchange for geopolitical confrontation? This is the central global question of our as-yet-unnamed historical moment. What will happen now that America’s post-Cold War engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have run their courses and U.S. attention has pivoted to Asia? Can the United States continue to engage China while somehow hedging against the strategic threat it poses? Can China go on seeing the United States as both an object of emulation and a barrier to its rightful place on the world stage? The answer to these questions is a paradox: the paradox of Cool War”.

He defies it thus “The term Cool War aims to capture two different, contradictory historical developments that are taking place simultaneously: A classic struggle for power between two countries is unfolding at the same time that economic cooperation between them is becoming deeper and more fundamental”.

He then adds, “A powerful argument can be made that despite its economic rise, China will not try to challenge the position of the United States as the preeminent global leader because of the profound economic interdependence between the two countries. This is the essence of the official, though dated, Chinese slogan of ‘peaceful rise.’ Trade accounts for half of China’s GDP, with exports significantly out­stripping imports. The United States alone accounts for roughly 25 percent of Chinese sales. Total trade between the countries amounts to a stunning $500 billion a year. The Chinese government holds some $1.2 trillion in U.S. Treasury debt, or 8 percent of the outstanding total. Only the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Social Security trust fund hold more; all American households combined hold less”.

He writes that this tentative peace relies on one thing, “The argument that the United States and China will not find themselves in a struggle for global power depends on one historical fact: Never before has the dominant world power been so economically interdependent with the rising challenger it must confront. Under these conditions, trade and debt provide overwhelming economic incentives to avoid conflict that would be costly to all. Over time, the two countries’ mutual interests will outweigh any tensions that arise between them”.

The problem with this argument is not that China is strong in relation to America but rather the opposite. As a result of Chinese buying US debt, America is in a far stronger position than ever before. Add this economic power to cultural, military, and America looks far stronger than China does at its strongest.

General Assembly condemns

15/05/2013

The U.N. General Assembly is set to vote on Wednesday on a draft resolution that condemns Syrian authorities and accepts the opposition Syrian National Coalition as party to a potential political transition. Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is opposed to the resolution, which was drafted by Qatar and other Arab nations and circulated among the 193 U.N. member states. Some Western diplomats said it was unlikely to win as many votes as a resolution that passed last year with 133 in favour”.

Chinese military III

15/05/2013

Following on from the previous post about China’s military and article from May 2012 opens noting that “In its annual appraisal of the Chinese military published last week, the U.S. Department of Defense seems to be describing an object it finds both familiar and mysterious. The report certainly answers many of the important issues concerning China’s military, including its attempts to develop an anti-ship ballistic missile and its continuing fixation on Taiwan. Yet for many crucial aspects of China’s strategy, the Pentagon seems like it’s just guessing”.

The first thing the author writes is what China’s long term defence plans are, “Although China’s official 2012 defense budget is $106 billion, an 11 percent increase over last year and a fourfold increase from a decade ago, the Pentagon places China’s total military spending at somewhere between $120 and $180 billion. ‘Estimating actual PLA military expenditures is difficult because of poor accounting transparency and China’s still incomplete transition from a command economy,’ the report notes, referring to the People’s Liberation Army. There have been no credible estimates of Beijing’s long-term defense spending plans. On its current trajectory, China could overtake the United States as the world’s biggest military spender in the 2020s or 2030s — but there are too many unknown variables to accurately predict if this will happen”.

The second item that the Chinese have not made clear is their nuclear plan “Pentagon concludes that “China’s nuclear arsenal currently consists of about 50-75 silo-based, liquid-fueled and road-mobile, solid-fueled ICBMs.” The Pentagon doesn’t attempt to estimate the total number of nuclear weapons that China possesses, although it’s generally assumed to have a much smaller nuclear arsenal than the U.S. cache of over 5,000 nukes. Nonetheless, theories that Beijing possesses or plans to develop a much bigger nuclear weapons stockpile just won’t die down. Speculation last year that China may have as many as 3,500 nuclear warheads — predicated on rumors of a sprawling network of underground tunnels — has been reliably trashed, but some still argue that Beijing sees a strategic opportunity in building a nuclear arsenal that could match or even exceed that of the United States in the coming decades”. He ends the section noting ominously, “Two submarines aren’t much of a strategic deterrent for an aspiring superpower, but the true scope of the SSBN fleet that China plans to build remains unknown”.

The third item he mentions that China has told no-one about is the plan for its navy, “American analysts often use the term “string of pearls” to describe Beijing’s supposed strategy of establishing a network of foreign naval bases, especially in the Indian Ocean, but the Chinese don’t. The latest Pentagon report does not discuss whether China plans to create a U.S.-style network of permanent forward bases for the PLA Navy. Nonetheless, there is no shortage of speculation that China will eventually deploy military forces to port facilities it has constructed in places like Burma, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The Seychelles has invited China to use its ports as resupply points for Chinese ships, but Beijing has insisted that this is not the establishment of a first foreign base, unconvincingly calling it a “re-supply port.” The “places or bases” debate has already been running for some years, and it will continue to rumble on while Beijing remains tight-lipped about its long-range ambitions”.

The PLA-N has already been active since the ASEAN dispute, provoking most of the rest of Asia to push back against it and toward America, although there is no certainty of its true potential.

He ends the piece raising questions about China’s designs on space technology and lastly, questions “There are many other imponderables in China’s military. Chinese cyber-espionage has been effective in obtaining foreign military secrets, but it’s unclear how much of this know-how has been successfully and usefully absorbed into China’s own military programs and doctrines. The overhaul of the Chinese defense industry has revolutionized the country’s indigenous capabilities, but how close has China really got to ironing out the kinks in its military-industrial structures and processes?”

What is evident is that China is as closed and secretive as ever about its military capabilities, with little sign that it is about to assuage people’s fears any time soon.

“To strengthen elements”

15/05/2013

The US is working with Britain to strengthen elements of the Syrian opposition, Barack Obama has told a White House press conference with David Cameron, where the two leaders sought to project a united front in seeking a political solution on Syria. The British prime minister said in a US radio interview that Britain had not ruled out taking tougher action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but later told reporters that his government has not made a decision to arm the Syrian opposition. He announced, however, that Britain would double its non-lethal aid to the opposition over the next year and that it was looking at ways to provide more technical assistance to the rebels”.

Chinese military II

15/05/2013

As part of the series on the Chinese military, an article, “Rotting from Within” from the Foreign Policy, argues the scale of the corruption of the Chinese military will doom any hope it has of fighting America, and winning.

Garnaut opens the piece, “the world underestimated how quickly a four-fold jump in Chinese military spending in the past decade would deliver an array of new weaponry to prevent the United States from interfering in a regional military conflict. Top American generals have worried publicly about ‘carrier-killer’ ballistic missiles designed to destroy U.S. battle groups as far afield as the Philippines, Japan, and beyond. Last year, China tested a prototype stealth fighter and launched its maiden aircraft carrier, to augment new destroyers and nuclear submarines. What is unknown, however, is whether the Chinese military, an intensely secretive organisation only nominally accountable to civilian leaders, can develop the human software to effectively operate and integrate its new hardware. Judging from a recent series of scathing speeches by one of the PLA’s top generals, details of which were obtained by Foreign Policy, it can’t: The institution is riddled with corruption and professional decay, compromised by ties of patronage, and asphyxiated by the ever-greater effort required to impose political control”.

He goes on to mention a speech given by Gen. Liu Yuan, the son of a former president of China. Garnaut writes that “Liu is the political commissar and the most powerful official of the PLA’s General Logistics Department, which handles enormous contracts in land, housing, food, finance, and services for China’s 2.3 million-strong military. ‘No country can defeat China,’ Liu told about 600 officers in his department in unscripted comments to an enlarged party meeting on the afternoon of Dec. 29, according to sources who have verified notes of his speech. ‘Only our own corruption can destroy us and cause our armed forces to be defeated without fighting.’ This searing indictment of the state of China’s armed forces, coming from an acting full three-star general inside the PLA, has no known modern precedent”.

He adds that “Some Chinese and diplomatic PLA watchers believe Liu, the highest born of all the princelings now climbing into power, is on his way to the very top of China’s military as a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) after the current leadership retires following this year’s 18th Party Congress, the first large-scale transfer of power in a decade. It helps that he is a close friend of the” current president, Xi Jinping.

Indeed some of the problems facing China’s military are positively 18th Century. Garnaut notes that “The practice of buying promotions inside the military is now so widespread, Liu noted, that even outgoing President Hu Jintao, who also leads the military from his position atop the CMC, had vented his frustration.When Chairman Hu severely criticised ‘buying and selling official posts,’ can we sit idle?’ Liu’s revelations are not necessarily good news for China’s would-be foes. Foreign government strategists are starting to worry that corruption and byzantine internal politics may amplify the known difficulties in communicating with the PLA and adroitly managing crisis situations”.

The British, and other European armies used to have an officer class that simply bought their promotions and from that came incompetence, bad leadership and military defeats. Therefore, to say that a similar patterns are occuring in China now would dent any claim they have to military prowess or tactical ability against advanced armies like America or indeed, any other forces that learnt their lessons centuries ago and promote officers on merit.

Garnaut writes that “Michael Swaine, a China security expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes that the ‘fragmented and stove-piped structure’ of the Chinese system means it has great trouble communicating even with itself, especially in crisis situations. He, like most other analysts, does not study corruption in the PLA because of the difficulty in measuring it”. He adds that although corruption is not measured, it is plain to see, “Outsiders can glimpse the enormous flow of military bribes and favours in luxury cars with military license plates on Changan Avenue, Beijing’s main east-west thoroughfare, and parked around upmarket night clubs near the Workers’ Stadium. Business people gravitate toward PLA officers because of the access and protection they bring. PLA veterans told me they are organising “rights protection” movements to protest their inadequate pensions, which they contrast with the luxury lifestyles they observe among serving officers. Retired officers have told me that promotions have become so valuable that it has become routine to pay the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to even be considered for many senior positions”.

He goes onto mention that “Liu’s Dec. 29 “life-and-death” speech heralded what could become the biggest expose of PLA corruption since former president Jiang Zemin opened an investigation into the Yuanhua Group in 1999. In that scandal, widely covered in official media, Yuanhua used military connections to evade a staggering $6.3 billion in taxes by smuggling everything from cigarettes and luxury cars to fully laden oil tankers. The case brought down hundreds of provincial and military officials, including the head of a major PLA intelligence division. It also enabled Jiang to consolidate his grip on the military. The outside world caught another limited glimpse of military corruption in December 2005, when the deputy commander of the navy, Adm. Wang Shouye, was detained for unspecified “economic crimes.” Official reports said he was brought down by a mistress, while Hong Kong’s Asia Weekly said he kept five mistresses and stole almost 20 million dollars. At the time, the PLA Daily, the military’s official newspaper of the PLA, said the PLA’s two historic tasks were fighting wars and eradicating corruption, but no one took visible action on corruption for a further six years”.

Garnaut goes on to mention the case of “the deputy director of his Logistics Department, Gu Junshan, after a protracted internal struggle. Gu was the first military official of such a high rank to be toppled since Admiral Wang in 2005. A source with direct knowledge of the case described General Gu extorting county officials with threats of violence and buying his way up through the PLA hierarchy. The source, whose allegations could not be independently confirmed, said that Gu, together with friends, relatives, and patrons in and beyond the military, profited immensely from a property development in Shanghai, distributed hundreds of PLA-built villas in Beijing as gifts to his friends and allies, and generally ran his construction and infrastructure division like a mafia fiefdom. He lists a bewildering array of personal assets, beginning with Gu’s own villa, which stands outside the usual military compounds behind a high wall next to Beijing’s East Fourth Ring Road, called the General’s Mansion”.

Worryingly he stokes already prominent fears, “the 1989 bloodshed left a vacuum of purpose and integrity within the PLA, which money has rushed to fill. ‘The problem has really got out of hand in the last 20 years,’ he said. ‘After the June 4 movement, when ‘opposing corruption’ was the protestors’ slogan, some of the officers no longer cared about anything. They just made money and broke all the rules.’ A second princeling who has recently retired from a ministerial-level position told me discipline and unity in the PLA has deteriorated in the past decade. He said an unprecedented leadership vacuum has opened up at the top of the military because President Hu never consolidated his grip, even after more than nine years at the helm of the Communist Party and seven years chairing the Central Military Commission”. Amazingly he goes on to write “The official with direct knowledge of the Gu Junshan case told me that Liu succeeded in taking Gu down only after Liu had appealed personally to President Hu, who had three times issued instructions to handle it. The source said the first two orders had been blocked by Gu’s key patron high in the hierarchy, whom the source did not name. ‘It was as if President Hu was making a show of his impotence,’ said the official”.

He ends the piece “Behind the PLA’s shiny exterior is a world where information is not trusted, major decisions require cumbersome bureaucratic consensus, and leaders fear their subordinates will evade responsibility or ignore directions. This entails a different array of risks than the ones that have troubled China’s neighbours and the United States. And Liu, like several other active princelings, is not sure whether the PLA is capable of self-surgery in the age beyond ideals and strong leaders. ‘We are falling like a landslide!’ Liu said in one of his speeches. ‘If there really was a war,’ he asked his subordinates, ‘who would listen to your commands or risk their life for you?'”

Drone from a carrier

15/05/2013

History was made this morning when the U.S. Navy’s stealthy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) drone became the first unmanned stealth jet to take off from an aircraft carrier’s catapults. The jet launched off the USS George H.W. Bush in the Atlantic Ocean at 11:18 this morning and landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland at 12:24 p.m”.

Chinese military I

15/05/2013

Aspects of the Chinese military have already been discussed here before such as the new aircraft carrier, the questionable loyalty of the forces, the weakness of the PLA itself. However, despite all the noise coming from Beijing, some have questioned whether China is trained to the same standard as other forces, either regionally or globally. In this, the first of six posts, dealing with China’s military rise and how it affects the United States and world security generally, a piece in the Economist examines the increasing power of the Chinese Armed Forces, the People’s Liberation Army.

The piece begins noting “That China is rapidly modernising its armed forces is not in doubt, though there is disagreement about what the true spending figure is. China’s defence budget has almost certainly experienced double digit growth for two decades. According to SIPRI, a research institute, annual defence spending rose from over $30 billion in 2000 to almost $120 billion in 2010. SIPRI usually adds about 50% to the official figure that China gives for its defence spending, because even basic military items such as research and development are kept off budget. Including those items would imply total military spending in 2012, based on the latest announcement from Beijing, will be around $160 billion. America still spends four-and-a-half times as much on defence, but on present trends China’s defence spending could overtake America’s after 2035″.

While this cannot be denied there are some complications to what the Economist has said. Firstly, China’s spending will not be sustainable. Demographics will force it to spend less on the military and more on caring for its greying population. Secondly, while China is spending vast sums on defence there is little real indication of what it is for. America’s defence budget is among the world’s most open. Naturally, some items are subsumed within others, or hidden altogether, but for the most part the world is aware what America is spending its money on an why. This cannot be said for China. Thirdly, there is a misunderstanding that just becuase China is spending money on defence it will therefore surpass the American military. This is not the case. Technologically America is so far ahead, not just of China but all European countries that it would not be enough for these nations to spend more. America would essentially have to stop spending money on defence altogether for decades for them to catch up.

The article goes on to say “All that money is changing what the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can do. Twenty years ago, China’s military might lay primarily in the enormous numbers of people under arms; their main task was to fight an enemy face-to-face or occupy territory. The PLA is still the largest army in the world, with an active force of 2.3m. But China’s real military strength increasingly lies elsewhere. The Pentagon’s planners think China is intent on acquiring what is called in the jargon A2/AD, or “anti-access/area denial” capabilities. The idea is to use pinpoint ground attack and anti-ship missiles, a growing fleet of modern submarines and cyber and anti-satellite weapons to destroy or disable another nation’s military assets from afar”. Its cyber capabilities have been seen in action, and openly condemned by the United States.

It goes on to mention that “China’s military build-up is ringing alarm bells in Asia and has already caused a pivot in America’s defence policy. The new ‘strategic guidance’ issued in January [2012] by Barack Obama and his defence secretary, Leon Panetta, confirmed what everyone in Washington already knew: that a switch in priorities towards Asia was overdue and under way. The document says that ‘While the US military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region.’ America is planning roughly $500 billion of cuts in planned defence spending over the next ten years. But, says the document, ‘to credibly deter potential adversaries and to prevent them from achieving their objectives, the United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged.'”
The article adds, “In the past 18 months, there have been clashes between Chinese vessels and ships from Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines over territorial rights in the resource-rich waters. A pugnacious editorial in the state-run Global Times last October gave warning: “If these countries don’t want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of cannons. We need to be ready for that, as it may be the only way for the disputes in the sea to be resolved.” This was not a government pronouncement, but it seems the censors permit plenty of press freedom when it comes to blowing off nationalistic steam”.
China is unique among great powers in that the PLA is not formally part of the state. It is responsible to the Communist Party, and is run by the party’s Central Military Commission, not the ministry of defence. Although party and government are obviously very close in China, the party is even more opaque, which complicates outsiders’ understanding of where the PLA’s loyalties and priorities lie”.
Interestingly the piece does note that, “General Chen describes the period up to 2010 as “laying the foundations of modernised forces”. The next decade should see the roll-out of what is called mechanisation (the deployment of advanced military platforms) and informatisation (bringing them together as a network). The two processes should be completed in terms of equipment, integration and training by 2020. But General Chen reckons China will not achieve full informatisation until well after that. “A major difficulty”, he says, “is that we are still only partially mechanised. We do not always know how to make our investments when technology is both overlapping and leapfrogging.” Whereas the West was able to accomplish its military transformation by taking the two processes in sequence, China is trying to do both together”.
Author notes that “They are, for the most part, ‘asymmetric’, that is, designed not to match American military power in the western Pacific directly but rather to exploit its vulnerabilities”. It goes on to mention that “If Taiwan policy has been the immediate focus of China’s military planning, the sheer breadth of capabilities the country is acquiring gives it other options—and temptations. In 2004 Hu Jintao, China’s president, said the PLA should be able to undertake ‘new historic missions’. Some of these involve UN peacekeeping. In recent years China has been the biggest contributor of peacekeeping troops among the permanent five members of the Security Council. But the responsibility for most of these new missions has fallen on the navy. In addition to its primary job of denying China’s enemies access to sea lanes, it is increasingly being asked to project power in the neighbourhood and farther afield”.
The piece ends, “It is hardly surprising that China’s neighbours and the West in general should worry about these developments. The range of forces marshalled against Taiwan plus China’s “A2/AD” potential to push the forces of other countries over the horizon have already eroded the confidence of America’s Asian allies that the guarantor of their security will always be there for them. Mr Obama’s rebalancing towards Asia may go some way towards easing those doubts. America’s allies are also going to have to do more for themselves, including developing their own A2/AD capabilities. But the longer-term trends in defence spending are in China’s favour. China can focus entirely on Asia, whereas America will continue to have global responsibilities. Asian concerns about the dragon will not disappear”.
It then attempts to reassure readers of China’s aims, “First, unlike the former Soviet Union, China has a vital national interest in the stability of the global economic system. Its military leaders constantly stress that the development of what is still only a middle-income country with a lot of very poor people takes precedence over military ambition”. Yet this is not what the rest of Asia has seen of late, to say nothing of India. The second part of the argument the author notes is “Second, as some pragmatic American policymakers concede, it is not a matter for surprise or shock that a country of China’s importance and history should have a sense of its place in the world and want armed forces which reflect that”. He then goes on to discuss the mismatch between what the West wants and what the West says. The West wants a stable China that does not bully its neighbours for gain and works with the system rather than against it. There is little evidence that China is working with America on any substantial issues.
Lastly  and by far the most ressauring point about the PLA is “Third, the PLA may not be quite as formidable as it seems on paper. China’s military technology has suffered from the Western arms embargo imposed after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. It struggles to produce high-performance jet engines, for example. Western defence firms believe that is why they are often on the receiving end of cyber-attacks that appear to come from China. China’s defence industry may be improving but it remains scattered, inefficient and over-dependent on high-tech imports from Russia, which is happy to sell the same stuff to China’s local rivals, India and Vietnam. The PLA also has little recent combat experience”.

Trusted more than the GOP

13/05/2013

A new poll finds Hillary Clinton more trusted than congressional Republicans over the Benghazi, Libya, controversy, as GOP lawmakers continue to probe the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate. Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that 49 percent of respondents trust former Secretary of State Clinton, while 39 percent trust congressional Republicans more on the issue”.

Another ally?

13/05/2013

With the end of a violent election in Pakistan, reports mention that “Nawaz Sharif, who twice served as Pakistan’s prime minister in the 1990s, has decisively garnered enough seats in Parliament to give him an unprecedented third term in the post, analysts said Sunday, as election results continued to pile up in favor of the industrialist’s center-right party”. The article adds “He is expected to seek friendly relations with the United States, which for decades has been Pakistan’s principal financial patron but which remains suspicious of Pakistani motives in Afghanistan”.

A different piece, in Foreign Policy argues that Sharif will continue to double deal America just like the countless Pakistani politicians before him.

She writes “Like the last two times he won the premiership, Sharif appears to have ridden to power on the back of strong support from his Punjabi heartland, a province that is home to much of the Pakistani elite, but also a patchwork of violent sectarian and Islamic groups.  Nobody has ever accused Sharif, himself, of being an extremist, but like anywhere else, success in Pakistani politics requires playing to the base. Take Sharif’s push in 1998, during his second stint as prime minister, to pass a constitutional amendment that would have imposed sharia law across the country. ‘He doesn’t believe in sharia,’ said William Milam, the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan at the time”.

She argues that the relationship between Pakistan and America will not change fundamentally, but she writes “Sharif’s track record of ambivalence towards extremists could prove troubling in more nuanced ways. Sharif’s senior advisers insist he would be committed to working in close collaboration with the United States, including on security issues, the fact that PML-N governments have, as Millam put it, ‘played footsie,’ with extremist groups in the past represents exactly the sort of mixed message many in Pakistan worry the violence-wracked country simply cannot afford”.

The article goes on to add that “Pakistan has faced a growing threat from the domestic insurgent group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, composed of Islamic fundamentalists intent on overthrowing the state. What once was a movement largely confined to the country’s remote tribal areas now has a growing presence in major urban hubs, most worryingly Karachi, Pakistan largest city and its economic heartbeat. In a bid to disrupt the elections, they’ve launched terrorist attacks that have left more than 100 people dead in recent months. Gone are the days when Pakistan’s powerful military could take on foes — both its own and Americas — with impunity and not face popular pushback”.

Worryingly she goes on to describe that “Former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi put it more directly. What Pakistan needs, she said, is a strong government that will tell its people, ‘we need to confront this threat, here’s how we’re going to do it, we need your support.’ In the last few years, she lamented, ‘I have not…seen anybody stand up and make that kind of a speech.’ In the waning days of this year’s campaign, Sharif began to speak out publicly — including to Western media — against what he has characterized as a flawed U.S. ‘war on terror.’ But Sharif’s senior advisors have also taken pains to highlight the party’s longstanding partnership with the United States, including their boss’s close relationship with former President Bill Clinton”.

As has been said here and elsewhere countless times, unless Pakistan comes to terms with Islamic extremism and stops supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan for its own ends then the country will descend inexorably further and further into chaos and disorder. The consequences of this are many but the most dangerous is naturally nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. Either they misunderstand the war on terror, which is possible, or Sharif does understand it but seems happy with the status quo which he feels he can control and use to his political advantage.

She has argued that fundamentalist parties have allied with Sharif in the elections, “When it comes to terrorism, Sharif and his fellow party members ‘believe that there is no room for extremism in Islam or in Pakistani society,’ Iqbal insisted. But word and deed are two different things. Many in Pakistan have not forgotten the image, a few years back, of Punjab’s law minister and high ranking PML-N official Rana Sanaullah appearing in a motorcade with Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, the onetime leader of the Punjabi-based Sunni sectarian group Sipah-e-Sahaba, which is banned in Pakistan as a terrorist group. Other militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba — the group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks — also call the province of Punjab home. Sipah-e-Sahaba has since morphed into the Islamist political party Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, and according to multiple reports in the Pakistani media, it reached an agreement with the PML-N to jointly support candidates for roughly a dozen parliamentary seats”.

Business as usual in Pakistan.

“Cap the number”

13/05/2013

Afghan president Hamid Karzai wants to cap the number of American bases in Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdraws from the country in 2014, setting the stage for a final postwar troop presence. Under the terms proposed by Karzai on Thursday, U.S. commanders will be able to retain major military bases in Kabul, Bagram and Kandahar according to Agence France-Presse. Other American bases in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, Gardez and Jalalabad in the east, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Shindand and Herat in the west would also remain after the 2014 withdrawal, according to Karzai”.

“Crippled its ability to adapt”

13/05/2013

An article argues that Gazprom’s and Russia’s power to exploit its natural resources for geopolitical gain is coming to an end.

Petersen writes “pressure from Russia’s neighbours led to a 15 percent decline in the company’s profits last year, eating into the state budget. Moscow’s single-minded focus on gas exports in an effort to become, in the words of President Vladimir Putin, an ‘energy superpower’ has crippled its ability to adapt to profound changes in the global energy landscape”.

He goes on to note “Building on the legacy of Soviet gas exports to the Eastern Bloc and parts of Western Europe, Putin and his cohorts in the Kremlin have, for years, used Gazprom as a cudgel in Moscow’s relations with European Union member states. Over the past decade, well over a third of EU gas imports have come from Russia, with a number of Eastern European states almost completely dependent on Gazprom. Bulgaria, for example, receives more than 95 percent of the natural gas it consumes from the company. Millions of European consumers shivered through the winters of 2006, 2008, and 2009 when Gazprom cut off supplies in order to squeeze middlemen in Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova who had had the temerity to buck Moscow’s policies”.

He then mentions that “Gazprom routinely bought cheap natural gas from producers in the Caspian region and sold it for as much as four times the price in Central Europe. To maintain the racket, Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller and Putin himself actively traveled across Eurasia threatening and cajoling European and post-Soviet leaders to quash alternative pipeline networks put forth by Western companies”.

Even worse for Russia, Petersen adds that “Low energy prices across the globe are allowing consumers to use Russia’s “reverse dependence” on European markets against Gazprom. Russia’s export options outside Europe are increasingly limited, allowing European consumer to demand better terms. Meanwhile, Central Asia is no longer Moscow’s vassal, but has finally emerged as competition for cheap energy, with producers such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan not only willing to give consumers (still largely in East and South Asia) a better deal, but without treating them as former colonies to be manipulated. Gazprom’s once-intimidated customers are growing increasingly bold. Last year, seemingly hapless Bulgaria was able to negotiate a 20 percent decrease in the price that it will pay Gazprom for the next 10 years. While it was still a long-term, so-called take-or-pay contract — meaning that Bulgaria agrees to pay for a fixed amount of gas for a certain amount of time, regardless of how much gas its consumers actually require — Sofia was able to add in a renegotiation clause, should circumstances change drastically. This would have been unthinkable in previous years”.

To make things worse for Gazprom he writes that new pipelines are being constructed, ” the long-stalled efforts to connect European consumers directly to Caspian producers are finally paying off. Building on the experience of the U.S.-backed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which since 2005 has brought oil from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to the Mediterranean”.

He ends the piece “Gazprom’s response to these setbacks has long been to tout its potential export gas eastward to China and the strong economies of the Asia-Pacific, but it has not invested in the pipeline infrastructure required for this geographical shift. Although it made record profits in the previous decade’s boom times, very little of those funds were reinvested, whether to repair the company’s ailing infrastructure or to realize new export options. Meanwhile, CNPC built its network to Central Asian producers just south of Russia, with plans for connections to Iran and the Persian Gulf states. After years of difficult negotiations, Gazprom finally signed a preliminary export agreement with CNPC in March, but the nature of the deal revealed Gazprom’s faltering clout. Neither a timeline nor volumes have been agreed upon”.

14-4

13/05/2013

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday adopted a substitute amendment to immigration reform legislation with a strong bipartisan margin, signaling which Republicans are most likely to support the bill. Only four Republicans voted against the substitute amendment, which expands the legislation to 867 pages and increases funding for implementation of reform by $900 billion. It passed by a margin of 14-4″.

A curial spat

13/05/2013

In a very public disagreement between Joao Cardinal Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life and Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith over the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has come out into the open.

At the start of the month it was noted that “‘Serious misunderstandings’ exist between Vatican officials and Catholic sisters, the head of the U.S. sisters’ group that was ordered to place itself under the review of bishops told some 800 of her global peers”. The article adds that “Franciscan Sr. Florence Deacon, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), addressed the sisters during the plenary assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, a group of nearly 2,000 leaders of women religious throughout the world. Deacon’s remarks constituted LCWR’s most public narrative of their relations with the Vatican. Citing a need to continue dialog with church prelates, the group has kept a tight lip on their discussions”.

In a related report Cardinal Braz de Aviz, who according to reports, “During the interregnum, the Religious chief – said to have been despondent over the loss of his last deputy, especially given the prevailing wind at the time – saw his regard among the cardinals spike after his reported takedown of Benedict’s embattled Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in the General Congregations scored an ovation from the floor. In a new pontificate, however, all things are new, and the Vatican footage of Braz’s latest meeting with the Pope relayed images of the cardinal looking almost giddy, acting familiar and even a tad playful with Francis on entering the Papal Apartment in the Apostolic Palace”.

Reports mention that the “decision last year to place the main representative group of U.S. Catholic sisters under the control of bishops was made without consultation or knowledge of the Vatican office that normally deals with matters of religious life”. The article goes on to mention the “lack of discussion over whether to criticize the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), said Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, caused him ‘much pain.’ ‘We have to change this way of doing things,’ said Braz de Aviz, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious. ‘We have to improve these relationships,’ he continued, referring to the April 2012 order regarding LCWR from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — approved by Pope Benedict XVI — that ordered the U.S. sisters’ group to revise”.

Interestingly the piece then mentions that Cardinal Braz de Aviz “spoke openly, referring several times to tensions between sisters and bishops on church authority, questions of obedience, and the future of religious life. At one point the cardinal even called for wide-ranging review of structures of church power. ‘We are in a moment of needing to review and revision some things,’ Braz de Aviz said. ‘Obedience and authority must be renewed, re-visioned.'”

The piece adds “He said that his office — which is tasked with overseeing the work an estimated 1.5 million sisters, brothers, and priests around the world in religious orders — first learned of the move against the U.S. sisters’ group in a meeting with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after the formal report on the matter had been completed. At that meeting, Braz de Aviz said, he told Cardinal William Levada, an American who has since retired as head of the doctrinal congregation, that the matter should have been discussed between the Vatican offices. ‘We will obey what the Holy Father wants and what will be decided through you,’ Braz de Aviz told the sisters he had said to Levada. ‘But we must say that this material which should be discussed together has not been discussed together.’

Crucially the article mentions that Pope Francis has re-affirmed the Doctrinal Assessment on the LCWR that was written before his election to the papacy.This alone should tell the LCWR that Francis is not going to support them in what they want. The narrative may not change, merely the presentation. However, more seriously there is only two reasons why the CDF did not alert Cardinal Braz de Aviz, either they were incompetent and meant to. Alternatively, the officials at the CDF did not trust him and therefore saw the need to proceed quickly without him. Yet, this is as much about turf wars as trust. The CDF, nicknamed la Suprema for its all encompassing role in the Curia, had its prefect appointed by Pope Benedict who also named Braz de Aviz.

The piece ends noting “Braz de Aviz also revealed how Pope Francis had chosen the new second-in-command for his Vatican congregation, Franciscan Fr. Jose Rodriguez Carballo“.

Laughably the Vatican statement issued after his speech notes “Recent media commentary on remarks made on Sunday May the 5th during the General Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, has suggested a divergence between the CDF and the Congregation for Religious in their approach to the renewal of Religious Life. Such an interpretation of the Cardinal’s remarks is not justified”.

Starting the succession

11/05/2013

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales attended the State Opening of Parliament for only the second time in his life on 8 May.

The model to follow

11/05/2013

An article in the Economist published some time ago notes the that the Nordic model has become, rightly followed. It opens “The Nordics cluster at the top of league tables of everything from economic competitiveness to social health to happiness. They have avoided both southern Europe’s economic sclerosis and America’s extreme inequality. Development theorists have taken to calling successful modernisation ‘getting to Denmark'”.

The article goes on to note that some of this attention is simply a matter of timing, “our special report this week explains, some of this is down to lucky timing: the Nordics cleverly managed to have their debt crisis in the 1990s. But the second reason why the Nordic model is in vogue is more interesting. To politicians around the world—especially in the debt-ridden West—they offer a blueprint of how to reform the public sector, making the state far more efficient and responsive”.

Yet, while it should not be forgotten that while the Scandinavian countries are a model to follow in terms of poverty, equality, good governance and a host of other examples, they are also exceptionally business friendly. Therefore they have low (business) taxes, flexible labour laws, and increasingly weak trade unions. However, the reason that this model works is that the societies are incredibly cohesive, partly as a result of their small size, and partly due to the beneficial hangover of

The article mentions, “The idea of lean Nordic government will come as a shock both to French leftists who dream of socialist Scandinavia and to American conservatives who fear that Barack Obama is bent on “Swedenisation”. They are out of date. In the 1970s and 1980s the Nordics were indeed tax-and-spend countries. Sweden’s public spending reached 67% of GDP in 1993. Astrid Lindgren, the inventor of Pippi Longstocking, was forced to pay more than 100% of her income in taxes. But tax-and-spend did not work: Sweden fell from being the fourth-richest country in the world in 1970 to the 14th in 1993″.

It then adds, “Since then the Nordics have changed course—mainly to the right. Government’s share of GDP in Sweden, which has dropped by around 18 percentage points, is lower than France’s and could soon be lower than Britain’s. Taxes have been cut: the corporate rate is 22%, far lower than America’s. The Nordics have focused on balancing the books. While Mr Obama and Congress dither over entitlement reform, Sweden has reformed its pension system (see Free exchange). Its budget deficit is 0.3% of GDP; America’s is 7%. On public services the Nordics have been similarly pragmatic. So long as public services work, they do not mind who provides them. Denmark and Norway allow private firms to run public hospitals. Sweden has a universal system of school vouchers, with private for-profit schools competing with public schools. Denmark also has vouchers—but ones that you can top up. When it comes to choice, Milton Friedman would be more at home in Stockholm than in Washington, DC”.

However, to balance against this (regulated) neoliberalism they have taken the best the left has to offer, “the Nordics also offer something for the progressive left by proving that it is possible to combine competitive capitalism with a large state: they employ 30% of their workforce in the public sector, compared with an OECD average of 15%. They are stout free-traders who resist the temptation to intervene even to protect iconic companies: Sweden let Saab go bankrupt and Volvo is now owned by China’s Geely. But they also focus on the long term—most obviously through Norway’s $600 billion sovereign-wealth fund—and they look for ways to temper capitalism’s harsher effects. Denmark, for instance, has a system of “flexicurity” that makes it easier for employers to sack people but provides support and training for the unemployed, and Finland organises venture-capital networks”.

The article bemoans the fact that public spending as a percent of GDP is too high and the level of taxes are “encourage entrepreneurs to move abroad” but whatever about the first point the second should be disregarded. As part of the social contract the only way that these societies have kept such high levels of state legitimacy, unlike some, and at the same time been flexible and market friendly is through high taxes. The fact that some young people move abroad to more neoliberal countries cannot be helped but it would be interesting to see how many return to their home countries when they begin their working lives in earnest.

The piece ends “The main lesson to learn from the Nordics is not ideological but practical. The state is popular not because it is big but because it works. A Swede pays tax more willingly than a Californian because he gets decent schools and free health care. The Nordics have pushed far-reaching reforms past unions and business lobbies. The proof is there. You can inject market mechanisms into the welfare state to sharpen its performance. You can put entitlement programmes on sound foundations to avoid beggaring future generations. But you need to be willing to root out corruption and vested interests. And you must be ready to abandon tired orthodoxies of the left and right and forage for good ideas across the political spectrum. The world will be studying the Nordic model for years to come”.

 

More election violence in Pakistan

11/05/2013

A pair of bombs targeting the offices of candidates running in this weekend’s election killed three people on Friday in northwest Pakistan, the latest attacks in what has been a bloody campaign. At least 130 people have been killed in attacks on candidates and party workers since the beginning of April. The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, saying the country’s democracy runs counter to Islam. The Taliban are suspected in the abduction of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son on Thursday, although there has been no claim of responsibility. Gilani said he has asked Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency to help find his 25-year-old son, Ali Haider Gilani, who was taken as he was leaving an election event in the central Pakistani city of Multan”.

Keeping the House

11/05/2013

AB Stoddard has written a piece on the 2014 midterms predicting that they will be a re-run of the 2010 midterms. She opens noting that “If the mere idea of ObamaCare fueled an historic GOP victory in 2010, just wait until reality sets in next year. That year, Democrats in swing districts were swept from office, so those who kept their jobs are running as fast and as far from the reform law as they can this year. Not only did Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who helped write the bill, recently call it a ‘train wreck,’ but Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who lost Tuesday’s special election in South Carolina to former Gov. Mark Sanford, called the law ‘extremely problematic,’ blaming it for cutting Medicare benefits and causing companies to lay off employees in anticipation of the program’s high costs”.

She goes on to argue that “a new tax on health insurance plans will cost small businesses an estimated $8 billion in 2014 and then $14.3 billion in 2018. According to a study by the National Federation of Independent Business, 262,000 jobs could be lost as a result. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) noted on the Senate floor Tuesday that the city of Long Beach, Calif., is keeping most of its 1,600 employees limited to 27 hours per week or less in order to avoid an estimated $2 million increase in healthcare costs that would cut jobs.  Not only are there economic consequences, but the guarantee of coverage is also at risk. Unless young, healthy people join new exchanges, costs will inevitably rise for the rest of the population. In addition, several governors are refusing to expand Medicaid, leaving millions uninsured or putting more pressure on exchanges where workers whose employers do not insure them will be seeking government-subsidized coverage”.

If governors and people are not upholding the law then the government must enforce the relevant penalties to force them to comply. It should take governors to court on the grounds that it is depriving the Federal Government of revenue and it should fine individual citizens who are not joining the new exchanges. The Affordable Care Act needs young people who are healthy to lower the cost for those who are older thus making it more appealing for the insurance companies overall. 

She goes on to make the valid point that “a good 2014 doesn’t mean a good 2016 for the GOP. Republican dreams of recapturing the White House could easily remain fantasy at the rate the party continues to divide and deteriorate. The midterm electorate will be white and old and far more conservative that the national coalition that elected President Obama in 2008 and 2012. Republicans will be handily reelected to their safe, bright red, Republican districts. A likely failure by Democrats to win the 17 seats required to flip the House will be perceived by Republicans as a resounding national rejection of Obama’s policies, who with the help of the Tea Party, will fool themselves into thinking they have turned the tide”.

Therefore the traditional patten of the incumbent administration losing the House, or even in this case seats, means that little will change in Washington with little the parties agree on. However, this is not a problem for President Obama who like most presidents on their final two years will focus on foreign policy.

Iran’s new drone

11/05/2013

Defence Minister General Ahmad Vahidi was quoted as saying the Epic, which can fly at high altitudes, is a ‘stealth aircraft that cannot be detected by enemies’. On April 18, Iran made public three other models, The Throne, also a stealth model, has a long range and is equipped with air-to-air missiles, said General Amir-Farzad Esmaili, commander of anti-aircraft operations. Esmaili said Iran had already produced and used dozens of them. The Hazem-3 (Solid) and Mohajer-B (Migrator) are “tactical and combat” models and also capable of reconnaissance, the general said”.

Xi’s dream

11/05/2013

An article in this week’s Economist magazine notes that “China’s global influence is expanding and within a decade its economy is expected to overtake America’s. In his first weeks in power, the new head of the ruling Communist Party, Xi Jinping, has evoked that rise with a new slogan which he is using, as belief in Marxism dies, to unite an increasingly diverse nation. He calls his new doctrine the ‘Chinese dream’ evoking its American equivalent. Such slogans matter enormously in China (see article). News bulletins are full of his dream”.

The author goes on to write “Xi talks of reform; he has launched a campaign against official extravagance. Even short of detail, his dream is different from anything that has come before. Compared with his predecessors’ stodgy ideologies, it unashamedly appeals to the emotions. Under Mao, the party assaulted anything old and erased the imperial past, now Mr Xi’s emphasis on national greatness has made party leaders heirs to the dynasts of the 18th century, when Qing emperors demanded that Western envoys kowtow (Macartney refused). But there is also plainly practical politics at work. With growth slowing, Mr Xi’s patriotic doctrine looks as if it is designed chiefly to serve as a new source of legitimacy for the Communist Party. It is no coincidence that Mr Xi’s first mention of his dream of ‘the great revival of the Chinese nation’ came in November in a speech at the national museum in Tiananmen Square, where an exhibition called ‘Road to Revival’ lays out China’s suffering at the hands of colonial powers and its rescue by the Communist Party”.

It is indeed ironic that the CCP has distanced itself from its imperial past as many of the current top officials both in the army but also within the CCP itself are princelings – descendents are former high ranking officials themselves.  The article’s mention of Xi’s attempt to fan the flames of nationalism has already been noted here before has potentially dangerous consequences if it gets out of hand.  This crutch that has been continually used for decades by the CCP to legitimise their rule, will one day fail, it is just a matter of when rather than if.

The article notes two major problems with this dream proffered by Xi. The first he writes is that, “of nationalism. A long-standing sense of historical victimhood means that the rhetoric of a resurgent nation could all too easily turn nasty. As skirmishes and provocations increase in the neighbouring seas (see Banyan), patriotic microbloggers need no encouragement to demand that the Japanese are taught a humiliating lesson. Mr Xi is already playing to the armed forces. In December, on an inspection tour of the navy in southern China, he spoke of a ‘strong-army dream’. The armed forces are delighted by such talk. Even if Mr Xi’s main aim in pandering to hawks is just to keep them on side, the fear is that it presages a more belligerent stance in East Asia. Nobody should mind a confident China at ease with itself, but a country transformed from a colonial victim to a bully itching to settle scores with Japan would bring great harm to the region—including to China itself”.

The second problem that the magzine sees is that “The other risk is that the Chinese dream ends up handing more power to the party than to the people. In November Mr Xi echoed the American dream, declaring that ‘To meet [our people’s] desire for a happy life is our mission.’ Ordinary Chinese citizens are no less ambitious than Americans to own a home (see article), send a child to university or just have fun (see article). But Mr Xi’s main focus seems to be on strengthening the party’s absolute claim on power. The ‘spirit of a strong army’, he told the navy, lay in resolutely obeying the party’s orders. Even if the Chinese dream avoids Communist rhetoric, Mr Xi has made it clear that he believes the Soviet Union collapsed because the Communist Party there strayed from ideological orthodoxy and rigid discipline. ‘The Chinese dream’, he has said, ‘is an ideal. Communists should have a higher ideal, and that is Communism.'”

Of course such simplistic readings of history will come back to haunt Xi and his associates. The USSR collapsed not just because of glasnost and perestroika, neither of which are likely in China, but because people had had enough of being told what to do. China’s myriad problems have been discussed here at length but to double down on CCP rule and assume that because the economy is growing and that therefore China will avoid the fate of the USSR is laughable.

Keeping Assad

09/05/2013

“Even as Washington debates whether suspected chemical weapons use in Syria should provoke direct intervention, Secretary of State John Kerry stepped back from the Obama administration’s longstanding position that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad needs to leave power“.

“Institutional logjam”

09/05/2013

An article has been written on Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood that is becoming more and more Islamist. He writes “The real debate within the group is whether they’ve veered far enough. With Egypt as polarised as ever, the country’s largest Islamist movement has effectively given up on reaching out to liberals and leftists, focusing instead on closing ranks and rallying its base. During the presidential race, Khairat al-Shater, the Brotherhood’s original candidate, chose a Salafi-leaning council of scholars for his first campaign event, where he affirmed that the application of sharia law was his ultimate goal and that he would form a committee of scholars to help parliament achieve that goal. After Shater’s disqualification, Mohammed Morsy — a weaker, less convincing candidate — doubled down on Shater’s back-to-basics message. ‘Needless to say,’ Morsy said, ‘[I am] currently the only contender who offers a clearly Islamic project.’ After winning the presidency, Morsi took a brief stab at rising above his partisan origins. But the tragic events of Dec. 4, when anti-Brotherhood protesters and government supporters clashed outside the presidential palace, rendered such efforts moot”.

He goes on to note that Morsi has done very little that could be considered Islamist, yet, and that his main aim is to survive at the next elections. However, while this would a be concern for most normal politicians, given the powers Morsi has, as well as previous precedent, the indications of free and fair elections are not good.

He make a fundamental point that ” The Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), do not act like your traditional ruling party. Conditioned by more than 80 years in opposition, they still see themselves as fighting an array of enemies — but this time, they are fighting them from the top of the state rather than the bottom”. Indeed the results of this were seen in his paranoia but also in the split within the Brotherhood itself – something that does not bode well for the already shaky governance in the country.

The article goes on to argue that decision making has slowed to a crawl with “More problematically, the court’s dissolution of the legislative branch created an institutional logjam at the top of the state. In the absence of parliament, legislative powers were passed on to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, then to President Morsy, and then, finally, to an upper house of parliament that was never supposed to have that authority in the first place. Without a legitimate legislative authority, the passing of laws slowed to a trickle”.

The problem is made worse in that “this narrative of protracted institutional warfare serves the Brotherhood well, allowing it to deflect criticisms for its manifest failures in government. It also allows Islamists to portray themselves as the true democrats, who won power legitimately but find themselves prevented from wielding it. But that it is convenient does not make it entirely false: Egypt does, in fact, suffer from a bloated, corrupt bureaucracy, one replete with Mubarak-era deputy ministers and undersecretaries who feel threatened by new governing elites. While those outside the Islamist fold argue that Morsi has overreached in power, Muslim Brotherhood officials often make the opposite argument — that the president has been too deferential to the state”.