The Buzz

Watch Out, China: India Is Building 6 Nuclear Attack Submarines

The Buzz

The Indian government will be launching a major naval expansion soon that will include the indigenous construction of seven stealth frigates and six nuclear powered attack submarines. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet approved plans to build the 13 new ships at about a cost of one trillion rupees or about $16 billion on Tuesday.

The expansion would triple the size of India’s nuclear submarine fleet and comes on the heels of Narendra Modi’s pitch to increase the proportion of indigenous defense production in India. In a recent speech, Modi said that he would like the percentage of domestic procurement in India to increase to 70 percent. According to The Times of India, this decision comes at a time when India has a “critical necessity” to boost its “overall deterrence capability” in the Indian Ocean, especially the region stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca.

India’s move is widely understood to be aimed at countering China and its alleged “String of Pearls” strategy as well as increasing Chinese naval forays into the Indian Ocean. India was spooked last year when two Chinese submarines docked in Sri Lanka.

India’s plans to procure six nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN) are also in line with regional trends where many nations are building up their undersea fleets as a way to counter Beijing’s growing naval might. Many see China’s lack of anti-submarine warfare capabilities as its Achilles’ heel. India already operates one Russian-built nuclear submarine and it is currently building an indigenous one. The latter is likely to be a ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN) rather than a SSN.

(Recommended: China's Worst Nightmare? Japan May Sell India Six Stealth Submarines)

In addition to its nuclear submarines, India also operates some fourteen diesel-powered attack submarines. The backbone of the fleet is its ten Kilo-class Type 877EM (Sindhugosh-class), which are being fitted to carry the Klub/3M-54E Alfa cruise missile system. Delhi also operates four of the German-built Shishumar-class Type 209/1500 subs.   

India’s new nuclear submarines will be about 6,000-tons each. They will be built in the Naval Dockyard of the city of Visakhapatnam in the state of Andhra Pradesh on India’s eastern coast.

(Recommended: The Indian Navy Has a Big Problem: The Subsurface Dilemma)

The seven stealth frigates will be built under “Project-17A,” an Indian project that has been under consideration since 2012. Four of the stealth frigates will be constructed at the Mazagon Docks in Mumbai while the other three will be constructed in Kolkata. Shipyards in both cities are already geared up for such a project because they recently completed three 6,100-ton stealth frigates. The new frigates will be larger and faster than India’s current frigates and will be designed to operate in a “multi-threat environment.” Additionally, they will be packed with sensors and weapons.

However, according to an Indian government source, the submarines and warships will not come into service until next decade.

Image: Wikimedia/S-62 Sindhuvijay

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

North Koreans are No Longer Starving

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When asked in his January 22 interview with YouTube [9:00 ff.] about the likely effects of greater sanctions on North Korea following the Sony hack, President Obama repeated a mantra widely associated with North Korea that as a result of its isolated, authoritarian leadership, “the country can’t really even feed its own people” and that “over time, a regime like this will collapse.” But the latest reports show that North Korea’s food situation is stable, and the leadership probably thinks it is doing better, not worse.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) released its latest assessment of the situation in North Korea on February 3, 2015. The nature of the assessment differs fromassessments of previous years in that it relies solely on DPRK figures supplemented by additional observations based on FAO satellite analysis and educated judgments regarding DPRK production gathered through past experience inside the DPRK, but the report does not benefit from information gathered during past on-the-ground food security assessment missions. These missions had been taking place annually through the fall of 2013 but the mission did not occur in the fall of 2014.

The fact that the DPRK decided not to continue to host an annual UN FAO field assessment is double-edged. On the one hand, the failure to approve the mission itself provides confirmation that DPRK authorities are increasingly confident in their improved food security situation. The DPRK appears to have made steady progress in domestic production in recent years, but at the same time growing income inequality in North Korea has resulted in continuing malnutrition among some sectors of the population, especially in rural areas. On the other hand, the decision to cancel the food assessment mission in 2014 leaves the FAO reliant on a combination of technical tools and information voluntarily provided by the government of the DPRK for the information used to make its assessment of the food situation in the DPRK. Over time, the quality of the assessment could be degraded without the opportunity to supplement these observations with local experience gained through physical visits to various parts of North Korea.

The bottom line of the FAO assessment is that North Korean food production has “remained stagnant” in 2014 at 5.94 million tons compared to the 5.93 million tons realized in 2013-2014. (This result was 50,000 tons below the FAO projection of 5.98 million tons released in November of 2013.) The FAO report projects a poor winter wheat and barley harvest in the coming months, but this harvest represents only about 10 percent of North Korean overall production. Even with this poorer than expected result, the FAO anticipates that the DPRK will need to import 407,000 tons of cereal to meet its overall need.

The 2013 FAO report had projected a cereal import requirement of 340,000 tons for 2013-2014. This amount is 8 percent greater than the actual amount of DPRK imports (313,755 tons) reported during that period. DPRK commercial cereal imports during this period included 248,603 tons of wheat flour from China. In addition, food aid to the DPRK declined “significantly” to about 65,152 tons of cereals.

Interestingly, according to this year’s report, the Russian Federation surpassed China as the largest bilateral donor to North Korea in 2013-14 with 28,700 tons of wheat, followed by China with 8,300 tons of maize. Multilateral cereal food assistance rose by almost 10 percent to 36,385 tons in 2013-2014. This chart from the report shows the substantial reduction in DPRK cereal imports to around 300,000 tons from about one million tons of assistance required in the aftermath of North Korea’s famine in the mid-2000s. It also shows North Korea beginning to meet its production shortfalls through commercial procurement rather than reliance on international aid.

The FAO assessment of North Korean food production is consistent with anecdotal reports that North Korea has made productivity improvements in recent years and that the North Korean economy is stable if not growing slowly. Andrei Lankov reports on the basis of defector interviews that a number of the agricultural and market reforms made under Kim Jong-un appear to be taking hold. This means that North Korea’s two-pronged policy of simultaneous economic and nuclear development is showing some modest results on the economic side. The problem is that the nuclear priority remains in place and North Korea’s efforts to develop missile and nuclear programs continues to proceed unchecked.

North Korea’s apparent economic progress is bad news for those who expect increased sanctions to be decisive in driving North Korea to make a strategic choice to give up its nuclear weapons. So far, the effects of increased sanctions have been far from generating sufficient economic pressure to induce North Korea to make such a choice. Under current circumstances, there is nothing to stop North Korea from having its cake and its yellowcake, too.

Scott Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). This article originally appeared on CFR’s Asia Unbound blog.

Image: Flickr/(stephan)

TopicsEconomics RegionsAsia

The US Navy Is Building Precision Laser Weapons

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The U.S. Navy has awarded Boeing a $29.5 million contract to build a prototype of a system that will provide the service with precision-guided laser weapons.

The company announced the contract in a press release on Tuesday. The statement said in part that, “Boeing will begin to design a prototype High Power Beam Control Subsystem (HP BCSS) that’s compatible with High Energy Lasers (HEL) based on solid-state laser (SSL) technology.”

The contract was awarded as part of the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) Solid State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) program, which aims to “develop and mature high-energy laser technologies into a prototypical weapon system for use and installation on the Navy’s surface combatants.”

Boeing said in the press release that “the resulting beam control system will focus and hold a laser on a moving aimpoint long enough to disable the target. Doing that with a ship-based laser is particularly challenging, given the maritime environment and constant movement of an at-sea vessel.”

The U.S. military has been investing in laser and directed-energy technologies since the 1960s, but it’s only been in the last few years that rapid progress has been made. Notably, in 2009, the U.S. Navy's Laser Weapon System (LaWS) Program first successful tracked and destroyed an unmanned aerial vehicle while at sea. The LaWS program continued to be tested over the next five years and was declared operational and ready for use at the end of 2014. It is currently deployed on the USS Ponce Afloat Forward Staging Base.

Similarly, in April 2011, ONR and its industry partner, Northrop Grumman, successfully tested a solid-state, high-energy laser (HEL) at sea. During that test, a surface ship used the Maritime Laser Demonstration (MLD) to eliminate a small boat.

Lasers are almost certain to play a large part in protecting the Navy’s surface fleet in the future as they offer a number of major advantages over traditional kinetic weapons. Perhaps most importantly, lasers are a fraction of the cost of kinetic weapons. Indeed, a laser costs roughly a dollar to fire while the Navy’s medium and long-range interceptors cost several millions of dollars per missile. This creates an opportunity to overcome the mathematics that has long been the Achilles’ heel of missile defense.

Equally important, whereas surface vessels can only carry a very limited number of interceptors to defend themselves against enemy missiles, lasers would give ships a nearly unlimited magazine capacity. This is particularly crucial at a time when countries like China are building formidable anti-ship missile arsenals. In addition, by freeing up space normally reserved for interceptors, lasers would greatly increase the offensive capability of America’s surface vessels.

Image: Flickr/U.S. Navy

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

Russia Developed New Fuel to Power Mach 5 Hypersonic Missiles

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Russia’s Defense Ministry has developed a new hypersonic missile fuel, a senior defense official has announced.

According to Russian state-media outlets, Army General Dmitry Bulgakov, the deputy minister of defense, told reporters on Tuesday that the ministry has developed special new fuel to enable missiles to fly at hypersonic speeds.

“The recipe has been created and the energy accumulated in this fuel will help our vehicles exceed the speed of Mach 5," General Bulgakov said, the Moscow Times reported, citing TASS News Agency.

Russia is one of a number of countries including the U.S., China and India that are in a race to develop hypersonic capabilities. Hypersonic missiles travel at at least five times the speed of sound (Mach 5, 6,125 kilometers per hour) or more. NASA further categorizes speeds as hypersonic (between Mach 5 and Mach 10) and high hypersonic (between Mach 10 and Mach 25).

(Recommended: A Mach 5 Arms Race? Welcome to Hypersonic Weapons 101)

Unlike the U.S. and China, both of whom focus their hypersonic development efforts on boost-glide vehicles, Russia and India are seeking to build hypersonic cruise missiles. The two countries already developed the BrahMos missile together. Considered the fastest cruise missile in the world, BrahMos has achieved speeds of Mach 3 (3,675 m/h).

BrahMos Aerospace, the Russian-Indian joint venture that produced the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, claims to be hard at work developing the BrahMos-II hypersonic cruise missile. According to the company's website, the BrahMos-II will be powered by a scramjet engine instead of a ramjet one. "As a variation of the ramjet," the company explains, "scramjets allow combustion to occur in a supersonic airflow, thereby expanding the operating range above Mach 4."

(Recommended: No, China Can NOT Shoot Down 90% of Hypersonic Missiles)

Indian officials have claimed that the BrahMos-II will be tested sometime in 2017, although this is likely an overly optimistic timeline. The U.S. and China have both already tested boost-glide vehicles.

Russia is also developing the P-800 Onyx, which some experts suspect could be a hypersonic missile as well. "It could be a fundamentally new missile, possibly hypersonic. One should not forget that NPO Mashinostroyenia has been actively working in this area, and it was not too long that ago mockups of the joint Russian-Indian hypersonic rocket BrahMos-II appeared at exhibitions,” one Russian defense expert told Russia Beyond the Headlines last October.

Image: Wikimedia/One half 3544

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

If America and China Went to War: Would India Join the Fight?

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Shashank Joshi makes a good case for the importance of Obama's visit to India last month, and against my view that there is much less to the U.S.-India alignment than meets the eye.

My argument is that their underlying strategic objectives remain too different for real strategic alignment. Shashank says that sets the bar too high. Without fully sharing America's aim of preserving its primacy in Asia, he says, India 'can take a range of other steps, from aligning itself to U.S. allies to strengthening a diplomatic consensus against China, that together contribute to (U.S.) primacy in a more diffuse, politically acceptable manner.'

It's a reasonable point, but I don't buy it.

We differ on this because we seem to see what is happening in Asia today differently. I think Asia's international order faces a fundamental challenge, whereas Shashank's argument suggests that he believes it remains essentially intact.

(Recommended: Five Chinese Weapons of War America Should Fear)

If Shashank is right, we can safely expect that issues in dispute between the region's major powers will be resolved by diplomacy operating within the status quo; business as usual, in other words. If so, the kind of low-stakes diplomatic alignment that Shashank describes might indeed make a real difference. The kind of low key, low cost diplomatic support India might offer the U.S. will be enough to help the U.S. preserve primacy, because its primacy would not face any serious challenge.

But what is happening in Asia today is not business as usual.

The regional order based on U.S. primacy is under direct and fundamental challenge from China. It wants to change the framework of norms and expectations within which regional diplomacy takes place. That is why we cannot assume that the issues raised by China's challenge will be resolved by routine diplomacy. China is aiming to change the way diplomacy in Asia works by changing the regional order.

(Recommended: Five American Weapons of War China Should Fear)

That has big implications. The prevailing order in any international system is defined ultimately by what the major powers in the system are prepared to go to war with one another over. As that changes, the order changes. Rising countries challenge a prevailing order by showing they are willing to go to war over issues that they previously would not have.

In 1972 China transformed the Asian order when it decided that it was not willing to risk war with America over anything except Taiwan. Now China is showing that it wants to change the order again. By undermining the credibility of Washington's alliances, Beijing shows its willingness to risk war to degrade America's position in Asia.

India's new alignment with the U.S. will only make a real difference if it is credibly willing to support America militarily against China if and when U.S. primacy is at stake. Diffuse and politically acceptable diplomatic support won't cut it at a time like this. So the test of the U.S.-India alignment is simple: does anyone think India would send forces to help America defend Japan's claim to the Senkakus, or the Philippines' claims in the South China Sea, or Taiwan? If not, how does India's support help America deter China from challenging U.S. primacy in these flashpoints? And if it doesn't do that, what use is it to Obama?  

(Recommended: Five Chinese Weapons of War India Should Fear)

That's why Obama's bid for India's support shows the weakness in America's position, without doing anything to strengthen it. The deeper problem is that lining up countries like India against China, even if it worked, would not help America find a stable, sustainable relationship with the country which is both its most important partner and its most serious rival. The only way to do that is to start talking to China in a new way.

Hugh White is a Professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University. This article originally appeared on the Lowy Interpreter.

Image: Flickr/Slipshod Photog

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Better Off Alone: Sweden Makes Single Work

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It’s hard to be single on Valentine’s Day, no matter how much Buzzfeed tries to cheer you up. But with pizza and bitter, lonely tears, you’ll pull through. There are even people who prefer being alone on the big day. The same is true for countries: across history, many have deliberately stayed out of alliances. A few have even tried to cut themselves off from the outside world entirely. It doesn’t always go well—to paraphrase an apocryphal Leon Trotsky quote, you may not be interested in the world, but the world is interested in you. Neutral Belgium and Luxembourg got steamrolled at the beginning of both World Wars. The United States and the Soviet Union were painfully drawn into the Second World War after trying to stay out. But a few countries have made single work—with Sweden among the most successful.

Believe it or not, Sweden was once a major European power—an empire, no less, ringing the Baltic with its possessions in the seventeenth century. Yet a string of setbacks saw Sweden beaten back and, at the dawn of the nineteenth century, deprived of some of its core territories. A new approach was needed—but first, some cleanup. The Swedes joined the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon, kicked his Danish friends out of the Scandinavian Peninsula, and forcibly took the Norwegians under their wing. Sweden hasn’t done much since.

It’s gone well for the Swedes—it kept them out of the conflicts of the middle of the nineteenth century and both of the World Wars, with their most major deviation (a somewhat sympathetic approach to Germany in WWI) being abandoned when it started to hit the pocketbooks of ordinary people. Remaining neutral in the Second World War was a major achievement, given that all of Sweden’s neighbors participated in the conflict at one point or another. Keeping out wasn’t easy or cheap: the Swedes increased their defense budget more than tenfold and had to navigate both Allied and Axis demands. Yet the benefit was great: while the lands around them were torn, while cities were reduced to ash, while the Holocaust murdered millions, Sweden was safe. At the margins, they were able to extend their safety to others, taking in refugees and extending diplomatic protection to thousands of Jews inside the Third Reich.

They continued their neutral approach during the Cold War, leaning slightly to the West and weathering numerous crises, including a 1981 incident in which a Soviet submarine became trapped inside Swedish waters for days. There were costs—for example, the Swedish foreign ministry has been accused of soft-pedaling the case of Raoul Wallenberg, who had disappeared into Soviet custody at the end of WWII, in order to preserve relations with Moscow. But there were benefits, too—Sweden developed an impressive arms industry as it prepared to keep NATO and the USSR at bay, and it preserved its independence and democratic institutions at a time when many European states suffered from superpower interference in their politics.

The Cold War’s end didn’t get the Swedes out of the woods. They still face violations of their territory by Russian and NATO forces operating in the tense Baltic, and loose immigration policies are causing tension in a once-homogenous society. But Sweden’s leaders have to be commended for their approach, which delivered them into the twenty-first century as a prosperous, democratic country. This happy fate was not always in their own hands. During the World Wars and the Cold War, the great powers clashing all around them could have forced Sweden to join in. But a strong military and deft, sometimes painfully pragmatic diplomacy augmented Stockholm’s main asset: luck.

Today, Sweden’s neutral approach doesn’t mean isolation. They trade actively with the world—hello, IKEA—and carry out peacekeeping operations. Their neutral status has also allowed them to play a mediating role in international disputes—they help keep the Korean DMZ quiet, for example, and they have served as a diplomatic protecting power for several Anglophone nations in North Korea and for the British in Iran, allowing limited contact and consular services to continue through crises. Sweden is also an EU member, giving it a more salient role in foreign affairs than a truly neutral country, but even here its instinct for aloofness has served it well—the Swedish people voted to stay off the Euro in 2003.

Other countries have made the best of singledom. Finland preserved itself during the Cold War, although it enjoyed less political autonomy than Sweden; a host of others stayed out of the World Wars. Switzerland took to neutrality earlier than Sweden, and with more conviction—it didn’t even join the United Nations until 2002. But it’s also been a more cynical actor, hosting ill-gotten financial gains and the occasional fugitive from justice, and its record during the Holocaust was far from sterling. The Swedes make the stronger claim to greatness in neutrality.

Like being single on Valentine’s Day, neutrality and isolation are rarely anyone’s first choices. But Sweden has shown that a little loneliness need not be cause for tears.

John Allen Gay is an assistant managing editor at The National Interest. He tweets at @JohnAllenGay.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Tonyingesson. CC BY-SA 4.0.

TopicsDiplomacy RegionsSweden

Silent but Deadly: Korea's Scary Submarine Arms Race

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A number of recent events underscore South Korea’s plans to establish a formidable submarine fleet to counter North Korea and other regional security threats.

Last week, South Korea established its first independent submarine command to conduct “more integrated, efficient and stable submarine operations.”

“The launch of the submarine force command is a clear display of our will to perfectly defend our East, West and South Seas through the enhanced quality and quantity of our submarine capabilities," the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy said in a press release announcing the command. “With the command, we have secured capabilities to more proactively deter North Korean threats by effectively controlling and managing our submarine forces ― strategic weapons systems that could stealthily strike the heart of enemy forces.”

The new command will be headquartered at Jinhae Naval Base in South Gyeongsang and will have a fleet of 13 submarines with ambitious plans to expand in the coming years. South Korea is just the sixth country to have an independent submarine fleet after U.S., Japan, France, Britain and India, South Korean media outlets reported. Other local media reports said that Rear Adm. Upper Half Youn Jeong-sang, a former deputy naval operations commander, would head up the new command, which will be tasked with “maintaining deterrence against the North, conducting wartime missions to strike strategic enemy targets, and protecting sea lines of communication.”

Indeed, on Thursday of this week the South Korean military announced it is developing a new comprehensive submarine operation plan. “The comprehensive operation plan on submarine capabilities to be based upon the existing one aims to counter not only threats by North Korea but potential danger to be posed by neighboring countries," an anonymous ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) official told Yonhap News Agency. “The military will also continue to develop precise and powerful underwater weapons to attach them to our submarines.”

The announcement of the revised operations plan coincided with Adm. Choi Yun-hee, the chairman of the JCS, visiting the new submarine command. Speaking to sailors at the command, the chairman instructed them to take a “one shot, one sink" mentality.

"As our military's key capabilities in operational and strategic terms, the submarine command needs to materialize the proactive and offensive concept of operation suitable for the combat circumstances of our time," Choi said, according to Yonhap.

South Korea’s submarine push comes at a time when there is growing concern about North Korea’s undersea capabilities. North Korea is believed to have over 70 submarines, many of them midget subs, but also around 20 Russian-built 1,800-ton Romeo-class submarines. There is also growing concern that North Korea is seeking submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), which theoretically could be armed with nuclear warheads in the future.

Even before these concerns began to surface, South Korea had been amassing a formidable undersea fleet. As noted above, Seoul currently boasts thirteen submarines. Nine of these are 1,200-ton Chang Bogo class diesel-electric attack vessels that are the export versions of the German Type 209 class submarines. According to Naval Technology, the Chang Bogo class has a single hull and “a length of 56 m, a beam of 6.2 m and a draft of 5.5 m.” In terms of weaponry, the Chang Bogo class vessel boasts eight 533 mm tubes and 14 Surface and Underwater Target (SUT) Mod 2 torpedoes, each of which has a range of 28 km. Some of them can also fire Harpoon cruise missiles and all can hold mines instead of torpedoes. Their diesel-electric propulsion system enables them to travel at a maximum speed of 22 knots when submerged, with a range of 595 km.

Since 2007, South Korea has commissioned four 1,800-ton Son Won-Il class Type 214 submarines (and launched a fifth), which hold a number of advantages over the Type 209 vessels. For one thing, the Type 214 submarines are equipped with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP), which allows them to stay submerged for two weeks at a time. They also have a diving depth of 400 meters, although their underwater speed is reportedly only about 20 knots. Their ISUS 90 submarine combat systems allow the Type 214 vessels to engage 300 targets simultaneously.

The navy has also said it will commission five more of the Type 214 submarines by 2019. The following year it will begin work on the first of nine indigenous 3,000-ton submarines, which will be capable of launching ballistic missiles.

Image: Craig P. Strawser, U.S. Navy

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Ukraine or the Rebels: Who Won in Minsk?

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Comparing the “Package of Measures to Ensure the Implementation of the Minsk Accords” to the Protocol Document submitted by the representatives of the Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples Republics, it is readily apparent that the document signed on February 12 is largely based on the rebels’ proposals.

The only omission worth noting is the absence of any mention of ending the military campaign in the East, which is referred to by Kiev as the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). This is understandable, since it is highly unlikely that such a measure could pass in the Ukrainian parliament, where several influential political actors, including Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, and the former speaker, now head of the National Security and Defense Party, Oleksandr Turchinov, are on record as committed to military victory in Donbass.

The most significant rebel achievement was getting Kiev to recognize a second de facto demarcation of force line, and a withdrawal of forces to the maximum line of separation of forces, which will now be between 70 and 140 kilometers. This concession by Kiev allowed the negotiations to proceed without getting bogged down in disputes over territory which, in any case, are supposed to be resolved by the Law on “Temporary status of local self-administration in certain regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblast,” commonly referred to as the Law on Special Status.

Yet, it should be noted that the proposals presented by the rebels in their Protocol Document made a number of significant concessions to Kiev at the very outset. Among these:

– No mention of federalism or autonomy. The rebels even used Poroshenko's own term—"deep decentralization"—to define regional self -government.

– No mention of language, cultural, or religious rights;

– Specific dates for the withdrawal of forces, passage of the Law on Special Status, and passage of an amnesty law. These laws have already been passed by the parliament, just not signed into law and implemented;

– The holding of internationally monitored local elections under Ukrainian law , specifically the Law on Special Status;

– OSCE monitoring of border between Ukraine and Russia now under rebel control, after full implementation of the peace plan.

It so happens that language rights, a key issue in this conflict, were added into the notes in the Package of Measures, but they were already mentioned in the Law on Special Status.

Thus, one might say that, while the latest accords follow the blueprint laid out by the rebels, that blueprint was already quite favorable to Kiev. Angela Merkel suggests that this was due, at least in part, to Putin’s pressure on the rebels.

The most vexing issue that now remains is whether the sides are actually willing to withdraw to their respective demarcation lines. Power abhors a vacuum, and, frankly, it is surprising that some sort of external peacekeeping forces were not a part of this agreement. Their absence is clearly a weak point, since the implementation of the original Minks accords broke down almost immediately because of the unwillingness of the parties to disengage.

Second, there is the broader question of President Poroshenko’s ability to deliver on the promised constitutional reforms, which involve decentralization and special status for these regions. In fact, his foreign minister already appears to be walking away from this crucial commitment.

There is intense political infighting within the current parliamentary coalition and, at this point, it is hard to imagine a majority in the Rada agreeing to designate which territories fall within the Law of Special Status, and therefore where local elections under Ukrainian law ought to be held. Point Four of the “Package of Measures,” however, stipulates that this must be done within thirty days, and this will be the first real test of the political feasibility of these accords.

Will this new agreement prove to be the long awaited road map to peace in Ukraine? Past evidence suggests that it will not. The willingness of the conflicting parties—Kiev and Donbass—to reach a settlement is still absent. The key to success lies, first, in placing a peacekeeping buffer force on the ground between the two armies; and second, in the willingness of the members of the Trilateral Contact Group to put direct pressure on their respective constituencies (the EU and United States on Kiev; Russia on Donbass) to abide by the political and economic portions of this agreement.

Image: Kremlin.ru

TopicsDiplomacySecurity RegionsBelarusUkraineEuropeRussia

Does Russia Need a Chinese Bailout?

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Russia’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen by nearly one-third since October 2013; they’ve fallen 20 percent just since September 2014.  Whereas the country still has over $300 billion in reserves, about $150 billion of this may be illiquid; it also has close to $700 billion in external debt.

Whom would Russia turn to for dollars in a crisis?

The IMF is the most obvious place.  The IMF approved lending to Russia of about $35 billion (SDR 24.8 billion) in the 1990s. With the sort of “exceptional” access that the Fund has granted to Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Ukraine, Russia could potentially borrow up to $200 billion today, as shown in the figure above.  But when it comes to Russia, the United States and Europe are not in a generous mood at the moment.  Moscow would almost surely want to look elsewhere.

What about its new BRICS friends?  Putin had said in 2014 that the new BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) “creates the foundation for an effective protection of our national economies from a crisis in financial markets.”

Russia could potentially borrow up to $18 billion through the CRA.  But here’s the rub: it can only do so by being on an IMF program.  Without one, Russia could only borrow a mere $5.4 billion – chicken-feed in a crisis.  In fact, borrowing such a pitiful sum might only precipitate a crisis by hinting that one was coming.

What about China?  Here, things get interesting.  Under a central-bank swap line agreed in October, Russia could borrow up to RMB 150 billion – the equivalent of $24 billion at current exchange rates. China’s Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng has reportedly said the swap line could be expanded.

What would Russia do with RMB, though?  Why, sell them for dollars, of course – as Argentina has likely been doing.  China might be happy for Russia to do so, as it would put downward pressure on the RMB without implicating Beijing in “currency manipulation.”

“Russia plays an indispensable role as a strategic partner of China in the international community,” according to a December 22 editorial in China’s Global Times. “China must hold a positive attitude to help Russia out of this crisis.” In short, China may well have both economic and geopolitical reasons for offering Russia a helping hand.

This post first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations’ Geo-Graphics blog.

Image: Flickr/World Economic Forum

TopicsEconomics RegionsAsia-PacificEurope

Russia’s Nuclear Forces Begin Their Largest Drill Ever

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Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces are conducting their largest drills ever, according a state-run media outlets.

On Tuesday, Col. Igor Yegorov, a spokesman for the Strategic Missile Forces, told Interfax-AVN that the unit began the largest drill in its history on Thursday. According to Yegorov, over 30 missile regiments and both road-mobile and silo-based missile systems are expected to participate in the massive drills.

The exercise it taking place across a vast sway of territory, covering an incredible twelve different regions in the country, from Tver region in western Russia to the Irkutsk region in the east. According to Google Maps, that’s a distance of about 3,998 km (2,484 miles).

Yegorov said the drills will test the Strategic Missile Forces’ preparedness for a wide variety of potential scenarios.

"Strategic missile units are practicing a broad range of missions, including red alert, maneuvering in actual combat and deterrence of sabotage units and precision-guidance attacks of a simulated enemy," Interfax quoted Yegorov as saying.

The spokesman for the unit went on to explain that the first day of the drill was devoted largely to defending deployed road-mobile missiles from sophisticated enemy sabotage attacks. “According to the drill scenario, sabotage groups of the simulated enemy laid mines on combat patrolling routes [of missile units] and applied poisonous chemicals to the area adjacent to their field positions," Yegorov said, Interfax reported.

The drill’s focus on protecting deployed road-mobile missile units is indicative of Russia’s desire to better operationalize its strategic forces to execute its nuclear doctrine. Although the Soviet Union maintained a no-first use military doctrine, the erosion of Russia’s conventional military power following the Cold War has forced Moscow to increase its reliance on its nuclear weapons to defend itself. As such, Russia abandoned its no-first use pledge in 1993 and, following NATO’s interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s, issued a new National Security Concept in late 1999 (officially adopted in 2000).

This document lowered the threshold for when Moscow would consider using nuclear weapons to include “preventing aggression on any scale… against Russia and its allies.” In this sense, Russia’s nuclear doctrine is similar to the one the U.S. quietly used throughout most of the Cold War to “offset” the Soviet Union’s numerically superior conventional forces in Europe.

Despite its greater reliance on these weapons, for many years Russia’s nuclear capabilities continued to atrophy, even as arms control agreements with the United States greatly reduced the size of Moscow’s strategic arsenal. In fact, by the middle of the 2000s some U.S. security analysts argued America had achieved nuclear primacy.

Since securing his third term as president in 2012, however, Vladimir Putin has sought to reverse this trend by modernizing Russia’s nuclear forces. Indeed, shortly before the 2012 presidential elections in Russia, Putin pledged, “We should not tempt anyone by allowing ourselves to be weak. We will, under no circumstances, surrender our strategic deterrent capability. Indeed, we will strengthen it.” Similarly, just last December Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said that the country’s nuclear modernization will be the Defense Ministry’s top priority in 2015.

True to their word, Russia has undertaken an ambitious effort to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad by 2021.It has also announced plans to add an additional 8,500 troops to the Strategic Missile Forces by 2020.

As part of this larger effort, Russia has been conducting increasingly frequent and more sophisticated snap nuclear exercises like the one that is currently taking place.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of the National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

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