The Buzz

North Korea's Most Dangerous Weapon (Hint: It's Not Nuclear)

The Buzz

The cyber attack on Sony Pictures by North Korea in response to the film The Interview (which opens in Australian cinemas today; see my review) came after a series of North Korean hacks of institutions in South Korea. It appears North Korea is improving its cyber capabilities and widening its target list. The decision to strike the private sector outside of South Korea is a new development with disturbing ramifications.

The Sony hack got global attention because it showed Pyongyang's new willingness to target high-profile, non-Korean, private companies. All this raises major questions about Pyongyang's asymmetric efforts against the South, and now for foreign firms operating in Korea.

There remains some disagreement over whether it was in fact North Korea that hacked Sony. Recently, the Director of the FBI felt compelled to come forward with more evidence in support of the U.S. government's claim, and President Obama has repeatedly spoken with great confidence that North Korea was the perpetrator. Furthermore, it is scarcely disputed that hacks of South Korean institutions, such as the nuclear power industry, banks, and broadcasters, were performed by North Korea.

North Korea's use of the cyber domain to contend with its opponents – South Korea, Japan, the U.S., and now perhaps their firms – is a new development.

For much of the internet age, North Korea has been so far behind South Korea and others technologically that cyber was not an area in which it was expected to thrive. Indeed, it may be that North Korea contracts out its hacking requests to specialist, third-party “hacktivist” groups like the Lizard Squad or Anonymous. Yet Pyongyang has repeatedly surprised observers with its technological leaps. North Korea beat South Korea in drone development, and of course, it has developed nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. It therefore seems likely that cyber is an emerging arena of North Korean activity.  Governments, and now business, will be forced to defend themselves.

Indeed, cyber is an ideal arena for North Korea for many reasons.

It is a twilight space with few agreed rules and much room for plausible deniability.

Predictably, Pyongyang immediately disavowed the Sony hack, and many have questioned the U.S. evidence. But unlike easily recognizable traditional aggression in the physical world, it is hard for non-experts to grasp virtual “aggression.” Anyone could see the sunken South Korean destroyer Cheonan in 2010 and make the reasonable conjecture that North Korea torpedoed it. But few have the ability to understand the nuances and details of cyber-hacking. It is not immediately evident that hacking is even “aggression.” Is leaking private photos and emails, or knocking out a bank website for a few hours, an attack or industrial espionage? Should it invite a defensive, perhaps military, response?

Cyberspace attacks allow North Korea to wreak havoc, but with only oblique links between its action and real-world consequences such as injury or property damage. For example, if a patient dies in a hospital whose power was cut in a hack, whose fault is that? Perhaps the hospital should have had stronger redundancy systems or better trained staff, because power failures happen anyway.

There are no good answers yet to questions such as these, which also explains why Chinese hacking of U.S. institutions has been met with such a confused policy response. Traditional international law and organizations cover “real world” conflict issues (eg. rules of war, war crimes, the treatment of prisoners of war). But given the sheer novelty of cyber war, there are no clear norms for what constitutes aggression, defense, proportional response, and so on. In short, the vague, hard-to-attribute, poorly regulated, twilight character of cyber provocation is likely very attractive to Pyongyang.

Finally, cyber-hacking fits longstanding North Korean preferences for both the asymmetric harassment of South Korea and criminal activity.

North Korea (probably) cannot win an open conflict with South Korea. This is well known even among Pyongyang elites, who have consistently stepped back from the abyss of their own rhetoric, such as in the 2013 spring war crisis. But North Korea is built around an enemy image of South Korea and anti-Americanism. These are central tenets of its post-communist, nationalist ideology. Regular tension with the South, and the U.S. and Japan, helps justify why North Korea exists despite the end of the Cold War, and why unification – ostensibly the regime's stated goal – never occurs.

The dilemma then for Pyongyang is how to gin up enough tension to justify North Korea's existence as a separate, poorer Korean state, but not produce so much that war breaks out. Here again, cyber is a great fit. Its twilight nature allows regular action against the South and U.S., but without the clear-cut fallout which might provide a casus belli. The Interview, which mocks the leadership that North Korean propaganda treats as semi-divine, was an ideal target for such action.

Finally, hacking is a congenial choice for a regime already steeped in criminal gangsterism. North Korea produces methamphetamines, counterfeit dollars and RMB, proliferates military technology, engages in insurance fraud and so on. As a rogue state that already rejects the basic rules of the global economy, cyber-hacking is likely just another technique.

Both the governments and businesses in South Korea, Japan, and the West will have to prepare for North Korean cyber-harassment and debate the manner of response.

Robert E. Kelly is an associate professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Pusan National University.

This piece was first posted on the Lowy Interpreter. 

Image: Flickr/ rapidtravelchai

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Bashar al-Assad: A Clever Sociopath

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President Bashar al-Assad has been a busy man over the past several weeks.  In addition to bombing civilian neighborhoods indiscriminately and starving out his opponents and the civilians who happen to live under their domain, Syria’s strongman-president has conducted several interviews with the western press.  And, in each of these interviews – despite tough questions and pushback from the interviewers – Assad’s strategy is the same: deny that his government bears any responsibility for the absolute destruction of Syria and the suffering of its population.

As one person out of many who has monitored Bashar al-Assad’s demeanor and behavior during this horrific war, it’s a tried-and-true tactic that has worked for him in the past and continues to work for him in the present.  The man has single-handedly killed over 200,000 of his own people with some of the most indiscriminate and inhumane weapons that mankind has to offer (guidance-free barrel bombs casually rolled out of helicopters; chemical weapons that have been banned by the international community, including sarin and nerve agent; chlorine dropped from Syrian aircraft; starvation; the withholding of medical equipment, etc.), yet has consistently acted as if the humanitarian watchdogs, governments, and multilateral organizations accusing him of these things are crazy, naïve, or drinking Kool-Aid created and sold by the United States and its Arab “puppets.” 

If you were expecting anything differently from the most recent interview Assad gave to Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East Editor, you will be sorely disappointed.  Indeed, despite constant pushing and probing by a very capable interviewer and journalist, Assad sat in the fancy chair inside his presidential suite composed, calm, and collected, as he always is and always appears to be in public.    

When you think of a bloodthirsty dictator that has cut the lives of hundreds of thousands of people short, most people think about manic and aggressive personalities like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, or Muammar QaddafiBashar al-Assad’s behavior, however, is precisely the opposite, which is why studying him is so interesting.  He doesn’t yell, scream, or jester violently in the air with his arms when he’s confronted with tough questions.  Nor does he restrict the kinds of questions that journalists ask.  Every topic that a journalist wants to talk about is on the table, which can only be viewed as part of a strategy to make him seem like a credible leader who can defend himself against challenges from prosecutorial reporters.  All of this says something about Assad as a person: he is as clever as he is brutal.

Over the past four years, Assad has allowed four big-name western journalists to interview him.  Barbara Walters interviewed him in December 2011, Charlie Rose talked to the Syrian president a few weeks after the August 2013 chemical weapons attacks, Jonathan Tepperman of Foreign Affairs met Assad last month, and now Jeremy Bowen took a stab at him this week.  But while the questioners were different, the way Assad acted was very much the same: he spoke in a soft voice, presented himself as a statesman instead of an isolated dictator, chuckled to make himself more personable, and parsed words to muddle the definitive and evidence-based claims that his government is committing widespread, merciless humanitarian atrocities against innocent human beings. 

Assad’s time with Bowen is the latest case in point. 

On Syria being a failed state:

No, as long as the government and the state institutions are fulfilling their duty towards the Syrian people, we cannot talk about failed states. Talking about losing control is something completely different.

On Syrians peacefully demonstrating for greater rights:

You in the West called it, at that time, and some still talk about that period as "peaceful-demonstration period" and I will tell you that during the first few weeks, many policemen were killed, shot dead. I don’t think they were shot dead and killed by the sound waves of the demonstrators.

On the use of barrel bombs:

We don’t have barrels. Again, it’s like talking about cooking pots. So, we don’t have cooking pots.

On evidence from the OPCW that chlorine gas was deployed last year:

Chlorine gas exists in any factory, in any house in Syria, in anywhere in the world. It’s not a military material.

On allegations verified by the United Nations that the Syrian army is besieging rebel-held areas in an attempt to starve the population into submission:

[I]f we can prevent the food from accessing those areas, can’t we prevent the armaments from accessing the same areas?

On schools being struck by Syrian artillery and aircraft:

What is the aim of shelling schools, realistically? Why would a government shell a school? What do we gain from that?

Writing in The Washington Post about his experience speaking with Assad in Damascus, Jonathan Tepperman aptly concluded that the man is one of two things: either a “sociopath” who is lying through his teeth or a “delusional psychopath” who actually believes what he’s saying. 

From the outside looking in, we don’t know which diagnosis is correct.  But judging purely from the act that he’s trying to sell in public, one thing is abundantly clear: Assad does not look and speak like your typical tyrant.

Image: Wikimedia/Ricardo Stuckert/ABr - Agência Brasil

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

The U.S. Just Tested a Stealthy Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile

The Buzz

The U.S. recently tested a new long-range anti-ship missile that is designed to counter the growing anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities of states like China and Iran.

On Monday, the U.S. announced that the Navy, Air Force and DARPA conducted a successful test of their Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) earlier this month at the Sea Test Range in Point Mugu, California. According to the press release, during the test: “a B-1B bomber released the LRASM prototype, which navigated a series of pre-planned waypoints to verify aerodynamic performance. In the final portion of the flight, the missile detected, tracked and avoided an object that was deliberately placed in the flight pattern to demonstrate LRASM’s obstacle-avoidance algorithms.”

In the press release, Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the Navy program manager in the LRASM Deployment Office (LDO), said that the missile will “deliver game-changing capability to our warfighters in theater as quickly as possible.”

The LRASM, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin, has a reported range of 500 nautical miles and carries a 1,000-lb. penetrator and blast-fragmentation warhead. It is primarily designed to provide the U.S. Navy and Air Force with a precision-guided long-range stand-off capability that can survive in aggressive electronic warfare environments. To achieve this, it uses on-board sensors and a semi-autonomous guidance system to reduce its dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms, network links and GPS navigation. It also employs “innovative terminal survivability approaches and precision lethality” to avoid advanced enemy countermeasures while still reaching its intended target.

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The missile’s development underscores the degree to which the U.S. military is planning on fighting in contested electronic warfare environments in the future, as well as how far America’s current anti-ship capabilities have eroded. The program was begun under DARPA in 2009 and leverages existing technology of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) program. Its development is being fast tracked under the Pentagon Better Buying Power 3.0 program with the expectation that it will serve as a stopgap solution to compensate for the Navy’s aging RGM’s Harpoon anti-ship missiles (The U.S. Navy also recently tested a sea-based Tomahawk land attack missile against a moving maritime target. The TLAM, however, requires in-flight communication updates to adjust its flight path. It does boast nearly twice the range of the LRASM).

The LRASM is expected to become operational in 2018 when it is integrated on to the Air Force’s B-1 Lancer. Shortly thereafter, it will be integrated on to the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet. Last year, DARPA began the competition for its successor, the Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW)/Increment 2 anti-ship missile, which is expected to reach initial operational capability around 2024.

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The LRASM had previously been tested twice in 2013 when it still a DARPA demonstration program. Following those successful tests, the U.S. Air Force and Navy joined DARPA in spearheading the program under the LRASM Deployment Office (LDO). This month was the first time the LRASM had been tested since that office was established. This also appears to be the first time ts obstacle-avoidance capabilities were tested.

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Image: United States Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Welcome to Hell: Life Under ISIS

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For revolutionaries and radical groups alike, appearing to govern (setting policies, laying out standards,  regulating) is essential to establishing legitimacy in the eyes of the population they seek to rule.

Many Islamist insurgency groups have tried to do this across the Middle East and parts of Africa.

During the seven years of its rule in Afghanistan, the Taliban stipulated social and educational rules on the population. In Somalia, Al Shabaab was known for its strength in policing and taxation, and derived significant local legitimacy from it. There are now fears that Boko Haram may be beginning the transition from insurgency to administration as well, with reports that the group is providing security so that the weekly markets in the Nigerian city of Mubi can operate. Last year, the Libyan city of Benghazi was declared an “Islamic emirate” by the same militants that attacked the U.S. consulate in 2012.

One of the most interesting cases was in Mali. In 2013, after the French intervention, a letter from the leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was found that chastised local Islamic militants for implementing Sharia Law too quickly. The letter goes on to state that the long-term goal was to “make it so that our Mujahedeen are no longer isolated in society, and to integrate with the different factions, including the big tribes and main rebel movements and tribal chiefs.”

Of course ISIS has also declared itself a “state” and made known its ambitions to form a fully-fledged Caliphate. But it has also started to reshape the local social, political and ethnic fabric in more fundamental ways.

Sarah Birke, in an essay for the New York Review of Books this month, takes a close look at the way ISIS has attempted to govern the Syrian city of Raqqa, taking over the administration of everything from education and health to providing “consumer protection” by regulating the price and quality of products. There is even talk of ISIS establishing its own currency. As Birke describes, the detail and reach of administration is somewhat remarkable:

Schoolteachers are allowed to continue to teach, but with an altered curriculum in which such subjects as chemistry and French have been removed and Islamic studies added. A junior doctor in her twenties who went into exile in September told me how the department heads in her hospital in Raqqa had been replaced by Islamic State men—complete with titles such as “emir of general medicine.” Female doctors were now only allowed to treat female patients, and in full niqab. “How am I meant to operate in black gloves and with barely my eyes showing?” the doctor asked me.

But strict religious governance can't be imposed without the deconstruction of what came before it. Acts of violence against the local population are designed to reinforce ISIS's authority and show its power through fear. One example is the newly renamed Sahat al-Jaheem Square in Raqqa:

Residents said they were terrified of the group’s horrific punishments. In a central square in Raqqa, heads are posted on spikes with a sign above them indicating what transgression was involved. The square used to be called Sahat al-Naem, or paradise, but is now called Sahat al-Jaheem, or hell; the doctor I met told me she took a route to work that took three times as long just to avoid it.

But, as Birke notes, ISIS is taking more fundamental actions designed to destroy the social, political and ethnographic fabric of Raqqa and make it something distinctly different:

Months ago people in Raqqa began describing how foreign jihadists were bringing in their families, or marrying Syrian or foreign women—who, like men, have been drawn to ISIS in greater numbers than to any previous jihadist movement. Many have been impressed by the actual setting up of a “caliphate” and some benefits of living there. The Islamic State distributes housing to fighters, and according to some accounts, widows receive welfare benefits based on how many children they have. ISIS sees children as important to ensuring its future. Although parents told me that ISIS does not force children to go to school, it recruits young people under eighteen into its ranks, runs Quranic lessons and events for children, and, parents told me, likes to make sure children witness beheadings and violence so as to get accustomed to it.

While other Islamist groups have tried to institute their radical and strict forms of religious governance on local populations, ISIS is attempting to restructure society from the ground up. For example, ISIS militants are encouraged to produce children en masse with “suitable wives,” the men of ethnic and religious minorities are killed while the women and children of those groups are enslaved. A report by Amnesty describes ISIS fighters systematically targeting women of non-Arab minorities and non-Sunni Muslims with rape and sexual enslavement.

The systematic nature of this rape, enslavement and murder shows that ISIS aims to reconstruct the social, cultural and ethnic fabric of the societies it conquers. While horrible and disturbing, there is a “method to the madness.”

In Raqqa, as more of the Syrian population has fled the city, foreign fighters and their families have moved in, leaving one resident Birke quotes as saying: “By the time I left I no longer recognized Raqqa as a Syrian town.” This is one small part of the mass population movement that is occurring across the entire region, and one of the under-reported consequences of the conflicts emanating from the Arab Spring.

The ethnic cleansing, forced migration and mass sexual assault and violence happening in Syria under ISIS has a historical parallel: the Bosnian War, where conflicting parties tried to reorder the ethnic, religious and cultural fabric of territories they controlled. It is important to remember that twenty years later, Bosnia-Herzegovina is still recovering, and has never regained the political or social cohesion it had before.

This piece was first posted on The Interpreter, which is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

Image: Public Domain

TopicsCivil Society RegionsMiddle East

Xi Jinping's War on China

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As Xi Jinping nears the two-year mark of his tenure as president of China, he might want to take stock of what is working on the political front and what is not. Here are some early wins and losses.

Certainly, his anti-corruption campaign has hit its target—hundreds of thousands of them to be exact—and shows little sign of slowing down. He has cast a wide net, leaving little doubt that no sector of society—party, military, business, or other—is completely safe. Still, Xi remains vulnerable to accusations that the campaign is at least partially politically motivated, given that almost half of the senior-most officials arrested are tied in some way to his political opponents, and none of his Fujian or Zhejiang associates have been detained. He might want to bring some transparency to the process: uncertainty and fear of running afoul of some regulation or another are driving many officials to avoid making decisions or taking action.

Xi’s ideological war has also taken hold far more rapidly than anyone might have imagined. The Internet as a forum for lively political discourse has virtually closed down, and his crack team of propagandists are constantly coming up with new ideas to turn back the information age for the average Chinese citizen. Banning foreign textbooks, blocking Gmail and VPNs, and putting cameras in classrooms to report on professors are just some of the initiatives underway. It is hard to reconcile Xi’s desire to support China’s most creative and innovative thinkers—much less attract back those who have made their lives abroad—to jumpstart the economy with policies designed to block communication and access to information. If he doesn’t reign in the Liu Yunshan’s and Lu Wei’s soon, he should probably expect a wave of China’s best and brightest to get their passports in order.

Xi has had less success in his efforts to reform social policy. Perhaps nothing is as surprising as the failure of the relaxation of the one-child policy to encourage young Chinese couples to have more children. In late 2013, Beijing issued new rules that permitted couples to have a second child if either parent was an only child. The government saw relaxation of the policy as a win-win—addressing both a significant source of societal discontent as well as the challenge posed by an aging population and shrinking labor force. Initially, the government estimated that with the reform, approximately eleven million additional couples would be eligible to have a second child. They anticipated that roughly two million new babies would be born each year. Instead, only one million couples applied, and as one Chinese expert estimates, there have been only 600,000 to 700,000 newborn second babies—roughly one-third of what the Family Planning Commission had anticipated. Analysts suggest that there are a number of reasons for the baby shortfall: no preschool for children under three, toxic environmental conditions, economic concerns, and even too much success in inculcating the value of a one-child policy.

Reform of the hukou, or residency permit, system is struggling as well. Launched in July 2014, hukou reform technically allows migrant workers to establish residency and receive benefits, such as education for their children, in the cities in which they work. Yet restrictions in the plan mean that only a small percentage of the more than 200 million migrant workers will likely benefit from the policy. Cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Guangzhou, which are home to the largest numbers of migrant workers, are excluded from the policy. Indeed, the new regulations only permit migrants to receive full urban residency benefits if they move to towns and cities of less than 500,000. Cities in between 500,000 and the most popular megalopolises have a range of restrictions on their residency requirements. As Chinese demography expert Kam Wing Chan has noted, it makes no sense to exclude the largest cities or set the barriers too high in other large second-tier cities—that is where most migrant workers currently live and, most importantly, where work is available. Given current restrictions in the policy, Chan estimates that to bring the migrant population to zero—the objective of the reforms—will require three to four more decades.

Policy reform is challenging under any circumstance, but all of Xi’s reforms share a common problem: a fundamental misunderstanding of social dynamics. The lack of restraint in the anti-corruption campaign and ideological war create a climate of fear that will undermine success in achieving other policy objectives over the long term, while a failure to recognize the actual needs of young Chinese couples and migrant workers means that the one-child policy and hukou system reform will continue to deliver sub-optimal results. For Xi Jinping it may well be time to reform his reforms.

This piece first appeared in CFR’s blog Asia Unbound here.

TopicsDomestic Politics RegionsChina

Is China About to Declare War Against ISIS?

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Despite China's long-standing diplomatic principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states, Beijing cannot completely control its citizens' involvement in terrorist activity abroad. Whether China likes it or not, it is being drawn into the conflict against ISIS.

China's state media recently reported that three Chinese ISIS militants were executed in 2014 following their attempted desertion from the terrorist organization.

Quoting an unnamed Kurdish security official, a reporter for the Global Times wrote that one militant was killed in Syria in September after becoming disillusioned and trying to return to the Turkish university where he had been a student. The other two were beheaded in December along with 11 other militants from six different nationalities.

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In response to the report, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson simply stated: “China opposes all forms of terrorism. China is willing to strengthen cooperation with the international community to fight together against terrorist forces, including the ‘East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM),’ in order to protect regional and global security and stability.”

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This standard statement effectively summarizes the Chinese Government's thinking on counter-terrorism: the emphasis is on the international community's cooperation with China in its fight against the threats of domestic terrorism and separatism (ETIM is an Islamic terrorist organisation founded by Uyghur militants in western China), while China's cooperation with the international community in its fight against international terrorist organizations remains limited.

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This thinking is frequently expressed in the country's media. Last week, an op-ed in the Global Times put the blame for the execution of a Japanese hostage at the hands of ISIS squarely on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, arguing that Abe values Japan's relationship with Washington above the safety of its own citizens. It reasons that the execution should serve as a warning to other East Asian nations not to become embroiled in this conflict, and ends by expressing the hope that “from now on, whenever China encounters any kind of terrorist attack, Japanese, US and European public opinion will make a clearer-cut condemnation of those attacks.”

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The involvement of Chinese citizens in ISIS is increasingly under scrutiny. Just two weeks ago, Malaysia's Home Minister confirmed that 300 Chinese militants had used his country as a transit point to join ISIS. Three weeks ago,Chinese authorities arrested 10 Turkish nationals for providing false passports to alleged terrorists from Xinjiang.

China will soon be forced to make difficult policy choices with significant implications for its diplomacy and international role. It will no longer be able to make official statements linking Uyghur separatists within its borders to international terrorist organizations without making a tangible contribution to counter-terrorism efforts abroad.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Pakistan Wants 'Battlefield' Nukes to Use against Indian Troops

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Pakistan is continuing to develop tactical nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield against India, a senior U.S. intelligence official said this week.

In providing a worldwide threat assessment to the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, discussed Pakistan’s expanding nuclear delivery systems.

“We anticipate that Pakistan will continue [its] development of new delivery systems, including cruise missiles and close-range ‘battlefield’ nuclear weapons to augment its existing ballistic missiles,” Stewart said during his opening statement, according to an official transcript.

Tactical nuclear weapons are low-yield, short-range nuclear missiles designed for use against opposing troops on the battlefield, rather than against enemy cities like strategic nuclear weapons. Both the U.S. and Soviet Union deployed them in Europe (among other places) during the Cold War, and Washington and Moscow continue to deploy them today. They are not covered  in existing U.S.-Russian arms control treaties like New START.

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In April 2011, Pakistan first tested the Hatf-9 (Nasr) missile, which it called a “Short Range Surface to Surface Multi Tube Ballistic Missile.” In the official statement announcing the test, Pakistan’s military said the Hatf-9 missile was nuclear-capable and had been developed to be used at “shorter ranges.”

“NASR, with a range of 60 km, carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy, shoot and scoot attributes. This quick response system addresses the need to deter evolving threats,” the statement said. It added that the “test was a very important milestone in consolidating Pakistan’s strategic deterrence capability at all levels of the threat spectrum.”

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Testing continued throughout 2012 and 2013, and Pakistan’s Strategic Forces are believed to have inducted the missile into service following an October 2013 test. Pakistan has continued periodic testing since that time, most recently in September of last year. However, it is unclear whether Pakistan is capable of building nuclear warheads small enough to use on the Hatf-9.

The missile itself is a derivative of the Chinese-made Weishi-2 (WS-2) short-range ballistic missile, which Beijing developed specifically to export. Starting in 2012, Pakistan began firing the Hatf-9 in four missile salvos from what it called a “state-of-the-art multi-tube launcher,” which was also derived from Chinese systems.

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Pakistan developed tactical nukes as a way to counter India’s conventional military superiority. In particular, Islamabad's tactical nuclear weapons were a response to India’s development of the so-called “Cold Start” military doctrine, which calls for using small and limited excursions into Pakistani territory to respond to Islamabad-sponsored terrorist attacks.

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As one analyst explained “The idea is that smaller nuclear weapons, used on Pakistani soil, would stop invading Indian forces in their tracks.” Similarly, a Pakistani missile expert told local media outlets at the time of the first test: “This is a low-yield battlefield deterrent, capable of deterring and inflicting punishment on mechanized forces like armed brigades and divisions.”

As The National Interest has previously noted, Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons are one of the most dangerous nuclear threats facing the world today. That’s because fielding tactical nuclear weapons underscores Islamabad's willingness to use atomic weapons even to counter non-nuclear threats (unlike India, Islamabad does not maintain a no-first-use nuclear doctrine.) Moreover, in order to be effective, Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons would have to be kept in a more ready state in order to be usable on short notice. Furthermore, once deployed on the frontlines, the battlefield commanders would likely be granted the authority to use them, raising the danger of a rogue general sparking a nuclear armageddon. Finally, tactical nuclear weapons, especially when deployed, would be more susceptible to theft by any one of the countless terrorist groups that find safe haven in Pakistan.

For these reasons, the U.S. intel community expressed alarm about Pakistan’s development of tactical nukes back in 2013. Stewart’s statement confirms that this remains the case today.

Image: Wikimedia/One half 3544

TopicsSecurity RegionsSouth Asia

Tony Abbott: The Worst Leader of Any Industrialized Democracy? You Decide.

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Is Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott the most incompetent leader of any industrialized democracy? Of course, a leader’s popularity, to some, depends on that leader’s political orientation. Many conservative Republicans think Barack Obama is one of the worst presidents in modern history, while many liberal Spaniards think conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is one of the worst leaders in Spain’s modern history.

But competence and popularity are not necessarily the same things. Even conservative Republicans would admit that Obama has achieved major accomplishments in office – they just do not like those accomplishments at all. And Obama, Rajoy, and other rich world leaders, whatever their problems, usually seem to be making their policy decisions based on advice from a retinue of advisors and after careful consideration of policy options. Even leaders criticized for acting too slowly, and offering uninspired policy ideas, like French President Francois Hollande, appear to be capable of running their countries’ day-to-day policymaking. There are world leaders who appear dangerously unhinged, making policy based on whims, advice from a tiny handful of advisers, or some other highly unscientific formula. Argentina’s president, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, comes to mind, as does Ecuador President Rafael Correa, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, or Russia’s Vladimir Putin. But none of these leaders run a rich and powerful democracy.

Tony Abbott, however, is in charge of a regional power, a country that is the twelfth largest economy in the world and the only rich world nation to have survived the 2008-9 financial crisis unscathed. Yet in less than two years as prime minister, Abbott has proven shockingly incompetent, which is why other leaders within his ruling coalition, following a set of defeats in state elections, may now scheme to unseat him. They should: Abbott has proven so incapable of clear policy thinking, so unwilling to consult with even his own ministers and advisers, and so poor at communicating that he has to go.

Abbott’s policies have been all over the map, and the lack of coherence has often made the prime minister seem ill-informed and incapable of understanding complex policy issues. In press conferences, Abbott has offered mixed public messages about some of the health care reforms that were at the center of his agenda, and sometimes has seemed unsure himself of what health legislation has actually been passed on his watch. He also has seemed unsure of what he promised in the past regarding Australia’s major public broadcaster – he promised not to touch it – before he went ahead made cuts to it. He also looked completely baffled on climate change issues at the G20 summit in Australia last year.

Abbott also does not seem to think it necessary to even discuss policy proposals with his top ministers and other leading members of his conservative coalition. His lack of consultation has made it harder for him to pass some critical legislation. In addition, he appears to have one of the worst senses of public relations of any prime minister in recent Australian history. At major economic summits, he has embarrassed Australia with his coarse rhetoric. He recently decided to give an Australian knighthood to Prince Philip, husband of British Queen Elizabeth II, even though nearly half of Australians would prefer the country to be a republic, and even those who support the monarchy disdain actions that look like Canberra sucking up to the British royals. Australia had not given out its own knighthoods for nearly decades, and even to many monarchists the very idea of Australian knighthoods seemed archaic. And if Abbott was going to give out archaic knighthoods, Prince Philip was a bizarre choice. Even among the conservative supporters of Abbot’s coalition, giving a knighthood to the notoriously gaffe-prone and fusty Prince Philip went down badly. Abbott did not appear to have consulted with most of his top ministers before deciding to give Prince Philip the accolade.

I take no position on whether a left or right coalition can govern Australia better – whether Australia needs a revolt from within the ruling coalition or a national election victory by the left. But a country that for decades has punched above its weight on nearly every international issue surely can do much better for a prime minister than Tony Abbott.

This piece was first posted on CFR’s blog Asia Unbound here

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsDomestic Politics RegionsAustralia

US Navy's 6th Generation Fighter Jets Will Be Slow and Unstealthy

The Buzz

The U.S. Navy’s next generation air superiority fighter will not be “super-duper fast” or employ much in the way of stealth, a senior navy official announced on Wednesday.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Navy’s top officer, divulged some details about the Navy’s so-called Next Generation Air Dominance F/A-XX fighter jet during a speech at an industry conference.

“I don’t see that it’s going to be super-duper fast, because you can’t outrun missiles.” Greenert said, the Washington Examiner reported. “And you can’t become so stealthy that you become invisible — you are going to generate a signature of some sort,” he also noted, adding “You know that stealth may be overrated…. If something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules in the air and puts out heat – I don’t care how cool the engine can be – it’s going to be detectable.”

(Recommended: 5 Ways to Replace the F-35

In lieu of stealth and speed, Greenert said that the F/A-XX would gain access by deploying “a spectrum of weapons” that could suppress enemy air defenses.

Greenert made the remarks while speaking at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo in Washington, DC.

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His concerns about speed and stealth appear to be valid. As USNI News notes, the proliferation of high-speed anti-air weapons to America’s potential adversaries greatly reduces the value of speed. Stealth also is a wasting asset, as Dave Majumdar recently explained on The National Interest:

“Russia and China are already working on new networked air defenses coupled with new radars operating in the UHF and VHF-bands that threaten to neutralize America’s massive investment in fifth-generation fighters. Fighter-sized stealth aircraft are only optimized to perform against high-frequency fire control band radars operating in the Ku, X, C and portions of the S-band.”

That the next generation fighter will gain access primarily by suppressing enemy air defenses also isn’t entirely surprising. After all, the Navy already employs the Boeing EA-18G Growler, an electronic warfare variant of the the F/A-18F Super Hornet, one of the planes that the F/A-XX will eventually replace.

(Recommended: How to Start A Proxy War With Russia)

Still, Greenert’s claims about the declining value of stealth and speed pose some stark questions for the armed forces and American taxpayers. The U.S. has spent decades and hundreds of billions of dollars developing and fielding the “super-duper fast” F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, both of which rely on stealth to be effective. These fifth generation aircraft are expected to be the foundation of the U.S. fighter fleet for years to come. If their capabilities quickly become inadequate to meet America’s security needs, the U.S. could find itself facing a glaring fighter gap.

(Recommended: 5 Russian Weapons of War NATO Should Fear

It’s little wonder then that the military is already fast at work trying to develop the next generation X-plane even though the F-35 JSF is not even operational yet. Unfortunately, these sixth generation fighters might not operational until 2035.

Image: Wikimedia/Boeing

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited

Ghosts of Imperialism Past: How Colonialism Still Haunts the World Today

The Buzz

While the days of European colonialism may be long over, it's legacy is ubiquitious.

That was the message that Michael Ancram, Lord Lothian, a British conservative politician and former MP, delivered to an audience at the Center for the National Interest on Tuesday evening.

In focusing on colonial borders, Ancram gave a unique perspective on some of the most dangerous geopolitical flashpoints afflicting the world today.

Ancram began in the east with the Line of Control (LOC) that delineates the border between India and Pakistan. He noted that the British government’s failure to solve the Kashmir crisis during partition has cast a long shadow over the world. And that shadow has since gone nuclear.

Moving slightly to the west, Ancram next turned his focus to the Durand Line along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Much as Pakistan disputes Indian control of Kashmir, successive Afghan governments since 1947 have rejected the borderline drawn between the British Raj and the Afghan Kingdom in 1893. When U.S. officials have said that the Durand Line is the international border, Kabul has accused Washington of meddling in its “domestic” affairs.

While not as well known as the Kashmir crisis, the Durand Line is in many ways more dangerous. For one thing, the current Afghan government claims all lands stretching from the Durand Line to the Indus river, which—according to some estimates—constitute 60 percent of Pakistani territory. The two sides have already been waging a vicious proxy war over the Durand Line for years now, and this is likely to intensify as international involvement in Afghanistan decreases.

The land bordering the Durand Line could not be better suited for this proxy war as it plays host to just about every terrorist group and undesirable element imaginable. It is, of course, from this area where al-Qaeda plotted against the U.S. in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The remnants of al-Qaeda central are still plotting against America there today, and they are joined by militant and terrorist groups planning attacks on countries like Iran, Uzbekistan, China and Pakistan itself. Even the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is getting in on the action along the Durand Line.

The crisis engulfing the Middle East as a result of ISIS’s rise was another major focus of Ancram’s discussion on Tuesday. He noted that, in many ways, the origins of the current crisis can be traced back to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between the United Kingdom and France. Like the Durand Line—which arbitrarily divided the Pashtun people between Afghanistan and the British Raj—Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot redrew the Ottoman Empire after World War I without regard for the people on the ground. The result divided existing societal groups—like the Kurds—among different countries, while grouping historical adversaries—most notably, Shia and Sunni—together.

As a result, the international borders of the Middle East have long been contested by everyone from Gamal Abdel Nasser to the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda. ISIS is only the latest the join the fight. It also might be the most dangerous. Calling the group a “virus,” Ancram noted that ISIS had already conquered a landmass roughly the size of the United Kingdom. It also has the potential to “spread like a virus” to other places like Jordan, Yemen and perhaps even Saudi Arabia. Despite this danger, Ancram advised against the West continuing to intervene militarily, which has proved ineffective and in fact further fueled nationalism and Islamism in the Middle East.

Western military interventions in the Middle East have also alienated the growing Muslim communities in the West, who themselves are one example of how Europe is still being impacted by its colonial past. Another legacy of colonialism in Europe today, according to Ancram, is the ongoing tensions between Russia and the West, which have their roots in the Yalta Agreement. At Yalta, “three old men” bequeathed Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. Once this area was under Soviet control, large numbers of ethnic Russians began moving into the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine. Often they concentrated in certain areas.

They soon became “trapped” following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as NATO and the European Union began rapidly expanding eastward. As former Warsaw and Soviet states aligned themselves with the West, they began viewing their ethnic Russian populations more and more like “fifth columns.” This, in turn, further alienated the ethnic Russian populations. The results of these dynamics have been all too apparent as of late in places like Ukraine.

Fortunately, Ancram sees a potential way out of these conundrums. Specifically, he pointed to Northern Ireland as a potential model for Ukraine and other countries living under the long shadow of colonialism to follow. In particular, the concept of “parity of esteem,” which is the foundation of the Belfast Agreement, could help the world extinguish the ghosts of imperialism once and for all.

Zachary Keck is the managing editor of The National Interest. He can be found on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/Menendj​