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

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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​


Congress Shouldn't Sink Iran Talks... Yet

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The whole purpose of a negotiation, as any able-bodied diplomat will tell you, is to get something from the other side without giving away too much in return. Diplomacy is difficult, not only because nations have their own interests and domestic political situations to deal with, but also because governments pitted against one another are oftentimes required to take a gamble in order to ensure that negotiations are successful. Sometimes, that gamble doesn’t pay off: a negotiation collapses, one side doesn’t meet its commitments and reneges on the agreement, or a development arises that makes the accord a relic of the past.

But there are examples when putting your personal reputation on the line can lead to unprecedented achievements. The nuclear negotiations with Iran, for all its bumps in the road, is an apt illustration of two nations recognizing that a thirty-five year history of mutual distrust should not impede a historic resolution on a critical matter of international security.

Many in Washington would say that this is a naive position to take. After all, the P5+1 talks with Iran on the latter’s nuclear program have been extended twice. U.S. and Iranian officials are hoping beyond all hope that a final framework agreement will be sketched out by late March—a timeline that is incredibly optimistic given the seemingly irreconcilable positions they hold on key issues. Tehran, for instance, has shown no willingness at all to downsize its centrifuges from the 10,000 or so it is currently operating to the 4,500 that western powers supposedly want. And, while the Iranians want a solution for the purpose of lifting an ironclad and debilitating global sanctions regime on their economy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn’t completely trust that Washington will live up to its promises.

We are fourteen months into negotiations over a comprehensive solution, and less than three months away from another self-imposed deadline on a framework agreement that could prove to be the last one on the calendar. No one said talks would be easy, and there is absolutely no guarantees that a framework agreement will be reached by March or that a final agreement will be signed by this June. But with only five months left before the international community is able to definitively conclude one way or another about Tehran’s willingness to limit its nuclear program, it doesn’t seem particularly logical for the U.S. Congress to pass another round of economic sanctions. Deadlines are established for a reason: ensuring that negotiations don’t get bogged down in deliberate stalling tactics and maneuvering. If Congress wants to pass sanctions, it should wait until after the Obama administration’s June deadline passes (on Thursday, January 29, the Senate Banking Committee passed with a bipartisan 18-4 vote the Kirk-Menendez bill, which would tighten the screws on Iran’s economy if an agreement is not reached by June 30).

Many lawmakers in Congress obviously disagree. The Senate Banking Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee all have members who would like nothing more than to ratchet up the sanctions if the administration fails to strike an accord with the Iranians by their self-imposed March deadline. Indeed, if it weren’t for an unexpected decision by Sen. Menendez to withhold support for his own bill until late March, there was a good chance the Senate would’ve already passed the bill.

Senators Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham, two Republicans broadly viewed by their party as men who take national security policy seriously, are simultaneously attempting to pass a bill that would force the White House to acquire congressional approval before a P5+1-Iran nuclear deal is officially implemented. The Corker-Graham bill may have a better chance at passing with bipartisan majorities since it provides Democrats with an opportunity to look tough on Iran without opposing the White House on sanctions.

Congress, in other words, wants to be a central part of the discussion. Yet, what Congress doesn’t seem to understand is that the Commander-in-Chief—whoever that may be at any given time—is the sole elected official responsible for conducting U.S. foreign relations. Forcing the president to get congressional approval for an agreement is not an example of oversight, but rather a hindrance that will raise more questions among Iranians as to whether the White House can implement what it agrees to during negotiations.

The message to the U.S. Congress from the administration and from Western Iran experts is clear and unambiguous: let the process play out to the best of its ability, without any interruptions or speed-bumps that could torpedo one of the first major acts of diplomacy that the United States and Iran have had over the past thirty-five years.

If Congress wants to pass an additional sanctions package, it is certainly within their power to do so. But the very least the body can do is wait until late June, when Americans, Iranians, and the rest of the international community will be able to determine whether a permanent deal is achievable. Because, if an accord is not signed after two six-month extensions, there’s a compelling case to be made that the issues dividing the P5+1 and Iran may simply be irreconcilable.

Image: Flickr/ResoluteSupportMedia

TopicsDiplomacy RegionsMiddle East

Russia to Hold Joint Military Drills with North Korea, Cuba

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Russia is in discussions to conduct joint military exercises with North Korea and Cuba, a senior Russian military official announced on Saturday.

Valery Gerasimov, the chief of staff of the Russian military,  made the announcement on Saturday at a meeting attended by all the top service chiefs as well as the Russian defense minister, Sergey Shoygu.

“We are planning an expansion of the communication lines of our military central command. We are entering preliminary negotiations with the armed forces of Brazil, Vietnam, Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Gerasimov said, according to a Newsweek report.

He added: “We are going to conduct a series of joint naval and air force exercises, as well as joint drills of our ground troops and air assault troops.”

Voice of America Korea and Russian news outlets also reported Gerasimov’s comments.

Newsweek quoted Steven Pifer, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia and currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, as saying that the move was likely aimed at proving that Moscow isn’t isolated on the world stage.

“The Russian military may be reaching out to other countries as part of Moscow’s effort to show that it is not isolated.”

Pifer also doubted that North Korea and Russia would actually conduct joint drills together. “I’d be astonished to see Russian and North Korean troops training together.”

However, Cho Han-bum of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a think tank funded by the South Korean government that focuses on Korean issues, did not find the notion particularly farfetched. “Russia and the North have common interests in that Russia wants to resist U.S. pressure and the North opposes the joint South Korea-U.S. exercises,” Cho was quoted as saying by The Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean daily.

Indeed, Russia and North Korea have been strengthening ties in recent months, and had previously suggested they’d increase mil-to-mil ties this year. Back in November of last year, Choe Ryong-hae— North Korea’s unofficial number 2— traveled to Moscow as Kim Jong-un’s special envoy, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, among other Russian officials.

In reporting on the trip following Choe’s return, North Korea’s Party-run daily Rodong Sinmun said: “The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing exchange and cooperation in 2015 in the political, economic, and military fields, and others.”

Notably, General No Kwang Chol, vice-chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army, also traveled to Moscow as part of Choe’s delegation. While there, he met with his Russian counterpart, Andrei Kartapolov, and the two military officials had “a wide-ranging exchange of views on putting the friendship and cooperation between the armies of the two countries on a new higher stage,” according to a report by North Korea’s state media.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2 when Soviet forces liberated North Korea from Imperial Japan’s brutal occupation. Kim Jong-un is expected to travel to Russia in May to participate in celebrations for Victory Day (the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany).

Besides military cooperation, Russia also sees North Korea as crucial to its plans to ship natural gas to South Korea via the North.

Image: Wikimedia

TopicsSecurity RegionsEastern EuropeAsia-Pacific

Revealed: How to Avoid a U.S.-China War

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In book one of The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides provided his explanation for why the Spartans (or Lacedaemonians) broke the thirty years’ truce treaty with the Athenians after just fourteen years: “I consider the truest cause the one least openly expressed, that increasing Athenian greatness and the resulting fear among the Lacedaemonians made going to war inevitable.”  Thucydides reiterates later how the Spartans assembly voted “that the treaty had been broken and that they must go to war not so much because they were persuaded by the arguments of their allies as because they feared further increase in the power of the Athenians, seeing the greater part of Hellas under their control.”

Historians and political scientists have remained focused on the hypothesis offered by the Athenian historian two and a half millennia ago: shifts in the relative balance of power between competing states or alliances can—intentionally or unintentionally—culminate in the most consequential outcome in international relations, great power war. Rising powers often hide their grand strategic objectives (assuming there are coherent preferences among that country’s leadership)—such as whether they accept the status quo or seek to change the international system. In the face of such uncertainty during power transitions, there may be incentives for declining powers to undertake preventive, aggressive actions against the rising power—the “better now than later” thinking.

These historical precedents and social science findings are directly applicable to the relative rise of Chinese power and influence in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. I have written a short essay, “The A Word: An Accommodationist strategy for US-China relations,” that attempts to provide some framework for how U.S. officials and policymakers could think about the “rise of China” challenge. Below are some of the issues discussed:

-Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, aptly warned, “We shouldn’t talk ourselves into [a conflict].” The antagonistic language used to describe China as an adversary could needlessly limit cooperation and harm relations. In order to avoid talking itself into a conflict with China, the United States should take a more accommodating approach.

-The United States and China, as well as other countries, will have to continue to learn to live with each other in open seas, international airspace, outer space, and cyber domains. In the absence of clarifying information from Beijing about its operations in these domains, it is easy to misperceive objectives and unnecessarily inflate threats.

-China’s expanding military must be put into perspective. It is reflective of most rising powers throughout history that seek some ability to shape outcomes in their neighborhoods, and is rationale and even predictable.

This piece first appeared in CFR’s blog Politics, Power, and Preventative Action here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

The Next Great War: America vs. China?

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The Sino-American relationship may be in decent shape. It's other countries we should be worried about.

Last year, the centenary of World War I's outbreak, was a bonanza for history fans. The prior benchmark The Guns of August, published 50 years ago, was comfortably eclipsed by several authors with access to new archives.

Still, World War I continues to vex, even as we unearth deeper clues to its causes. One of 2014's more thoughtful books – actually a collection of essays from some seriously heavyweight contributors – The Next Great War?, directly tackles the question at the back of everyone's mind today: what parallels between now and then?

The causes of World War I were so numerous and profound that “they are undetermining individually and overdetermining collectively.”

In other words, no single factor caused the war, but together all were irresistible: entangling alliances of approximate parity, a “security dilemma” of mutual fear, “the cult of the offensive,” “militaries gone rogue,” nationalistic domestic coalitions, the belief in “pre-emptive mobilization” (first strike advantage), a failure to understand the defense-dominance of new technologies, the “indivisibility problem” (eg. control of Turkish Straits), domestic paralysis and lack of legitimacy, “bounded rationality” (imperfect information), complacency, fatalism, credibility, mediocre statesmanship and outright lunacy.

In sum, World War I was caused by the “tyranny of small things...the accumulation of contingencies.”

Do these factors exist today? Overall the book concludes that “there are many more differences than similarities. Arguing that China in 2014 is Germany in 1914 is neither precise nor helpful.” It goes on to say that “It is inaccurate to describe the prevailing climate in either country as bellicose or complacent...the US has more time to manage its relationship with a rising power than Britain did a century ago, and China has more incentive for restraint.” The book's editors conclude hopefully that “the US-China relationship looks easier to manage than the multipolar system that led to 1914.”

But the multipolarity angle is an historical argument worth exploring.

The world in 1914 certainly wasn't a German-British duopoly. The Anglosphere tends to over-emphasize this rivalry. We rarely hear, say, French or Turkish accounts of the war, though they were as deeply affected. It is true that Britain and Germany represented “anchors” of two alliance systems, but their direct antagonism had probably peaked already. As late as July 1914, Royal Navy ships were paying friendly visits to Kiel. By then Germany was more worried about Russia: “The problem that the German General Staff and many among the civilian leaders thought truly dangerous was the growth of Russian power. If Germany was Britain's naval nightmare, Russia was Germany's army nightmare.” It was the very absence of a clear hegemonic order that created the multipolar mess the Great War became. Between Pax Britannica and Pax Americana, as Lamont Colucci has recently noted “the medium and lesser powers attempted to use the great powers for their own reasons.”

And the willingness of smaller nations to fight was striking. In his impressive concluding essay, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd cites predecessor Sir George Reid defiantly addressing the German Reichstag in 1912: “Peace is our supreme aim, it is the one thing we must have even if we have to fight for it.”

Rudd, who has warned of “a maritime Balkans” in Asia, notes that Australia would go on to suffer a 64% casualty rate in World War I, the highest of any nation. The Balkans was the “tinderbox” in which several dysfunctional, aggrieved, proud little states eventually set all Europe ablaze. As always “the costs of war are knowable only in retrospect” but even Russia, resurgent and feared, knew how internally destructive war would be. The famous Durnovo memorandum makes this clear. The editor of The Next Great War?, Richard Rosencrance, argues 1914 was the “worst of all possible worlds” where great powers “committed their support to a particular ally (Serbia and Austria) whose role in the war would be less than decisive.”

The reason why the Balkan morass quickly coalesced into a conflict between two great alliances is easily understood by the logic of “my enemy's enemy is my friend.” Bipolarity “solves” an equilibrium problem. Some argue it is actually stabilizing. The US has built a network of Asian allies, any of whom could act irresponsibly. The World War I parallel would become more compelling if China itself purposefully cultivated its own alliances: North Korea? Pakistan? Iran? Russia? “Usually hegemonic great powers have the greatest number of allied responsibilities and the most extensive periphery of interests. It is hardest for them to back down,” Rosencrance notes.

Thus an American scholar of European history puzzles about contemporary Asia: “The US has played a great power role in the western Pacific since at least 1898. Indeed its unwillingness to cede to the Japanese exclusive control over the region helped to preserve the Chinese polity in the early 1940s. Now these ambitions appear inappropriate to the Chinese.” How hard will they push? Another contributor remarks: “imputations of encirclement, naval expenditures, propaganda, self-consuming is hard to imagine that China's leaders are not sensitive to Germany's history.” Lee Kwan Yew's prediction, that “not until China has overtaken the US in the development and application of technology can they envisage confronting the US militarily,” is less than reassuring.

Kevin Rudd notes “the perception of some in the US policy establishment that China is simply buying time, taking the strategic temperature down at a declaratory level, while operationally continuing its long-term project of maximizing its national power, against that day in the future when China is able to begin to act unilaterally.”

Though a multilateralist, even he sees the difficulty of a grand bargain. “A new concert of power would seem to require more cooperation and even constitutional change than China or the US is ready to accept. Beijing has insisted on dealing separately with each regional counter-claimant to East Asian real estate, ruling out a more general settlement. This means the US must provide backup for each ally.”

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here.

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Watch Out America: North Korea's Military Practices Sinking US Aircraft Carriers

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North Korea’s Navy and Air Force recently conducted a drill simulating “mercilessly striking” U.S. Aircraft Carriers using “guerrillas-style combat,” according to official media outlets.

On Saturday the Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim Jong-un had recent personally overseen a recent joint naval and air force drill that practiced sinking U.S. Aircraft carriers.

“The drill was conducted with main emphasis on rounding off the war method of mounting surprise air and naval attacks on the U.S. imperialists' carrier which sailed into the operation waters in the southern half to make military strikes at strategic targets of the DPRK,’ the report said, using North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

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According to KCNA, the drills began with North Korea’s fighter aircraft “bolding breaking” through the carrier strike group’s “dense network of anti-air defense” to launch close-range “zooming attacks” on the carrier itself. After these sorties, “combined submarine units made torpedo attacks in succession from ambushed waters on the enemy forces hit hard by air strikes.”

After the drills were complete, Kim Jong-un directed the armed forces to intensify their efforts against U.S. carrier strike groups, because if the military “steadily studies and rounds off the war methods of mercilessly striking the enemy's backbone by the guerrillas-style combat method… it is quite possible to send even a carrier to the bottom of the sea.”

Kim also told the military not to fear America and its allies’ superior technology because “the fight with the enemies is not only the confrontation between arms and equipment and physical strength but the confrontation of mental power and ideology of people.” Kim argued that North Korea holds advantages over its adversaries in these latter qualities.

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It is not the first time that North Korea has discussed sinking a U.S. aircraft carrier. In October 2013, the U.S., South Korea and Japan held trilateral naval drills off the Korean Peninsula that included the USS George Washington nuclear aircraft carrier, along with supported weaponry like guided-missile ships, anti-submarine helicopters and early warning aircraft. In response, North Korea released a statement via KCNA that threatened to mount a counterattack that would “bury” the “provocateurs in the sea together with the carrier.” During the drills North Korea’s general staff said deploying the aircraft carrier for the drills was “very dangerous, reckless behavior,” and claimed it was armed “with at least 100 nuclear bombs aboard, many guided-missile destroyers, cruisers, submarines and escort warships, etc.”

Similarly, when the USS George Washington participated in drills in South Korea in July of last year, North Korea claimed charged the U.S. with “reckless hostility and confrontation," although it didn’t specifically threaten to sink the carrier itself. KIm Jong-un did visit frontline troops during the drill and directed them to send their enemies “to the bottom of the sea, to the last man.”

It is unclear if the North Korean military has previously practiced sinking U.S. aircraft carriers.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Chris Cavagnaro.

(Recommended: Sorry, America: China Can't Solve Your North Korea Problem)​

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

China Beware: India Tests Nuclear Missile That Can Reach Beijing

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India has successfully tested a nuclear-capable long range ballistic missile that can reach all major Chinese cities.

As expected, India conducted the first canister test launch of its Agni-V nuclear-capable ballistic missile on Wheeler's Island in the Bay of Bengal. The test was a complete success, the government said in a press release.

“India’s ICBM Agni 5 was successfully test fired from a canister today 31 Jan 2015 at 0809 hrs.” the statement said. “The missile hit the designated target point accurately, meeting all mission objectives.”

The Agni-V is a three-stage solid-fueled intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with a range of about 5,000 km while carrying a 1.1 ton payload. When inducted into India’s Strategic Forces Command, it will give India the ability to threaten all of China’s major cities with nuclear weapons, a capability that Delhi currently lacks. China has long boasted ICBMs capable of reaching all of India.

This was the third test of the Agni-V following ones in 2012 and 2013. However, the test on Saturday was the first time that India tested the Agni-V from a mobile launcher mounted on top of a truck. A canister launched missile has greatly survivability and can be launched much more quickly than ones at a fixed launch site.

As the press release explained:

“The earlier two flights of Agni 5… were in open configuration and had already proved the missile. Today’s launch from a canister integrated with a mobile sophisticated launcher, was in its deliverable configuration that enables launch of the missile with a very short preparation time as compared to an open launch. It also has advantages of higher reliability, longer shelf life, less maintenance and enhanced mobility.”

Avinash Chander, the outgoing chief of India’s defense technology agency, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, which designed the Agni-V, underscored the importance of the canister launch. “This is a momentous occasion. It is India’s first ever ICBM launch from a canister and is a giant leap in country’s deterrence capability.” Chander, who left office following the test on Saturday, said that the launch was the “best farewell gift.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also praised the successful launch on Twitter. “Successful test-firing of Agni V from a canister makes the missile a prized asset for our forces. I salute our scientists for their efforts,” the Indian leader tweeted.

Indian media outlets reported that DRDO will conduct a few more tests of the Agni-V before it will be officially inducted into India’s Strategic Forces Command.

Image: DRDO


Destination Beijing: India to Test 'China-Killer' Nuke Missile

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India is readying the first canister test of its so-called “China killer” long-range ballistic missile.

This week the New Indian Express reported that on Saturday the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO), India’s top defense technology agency, will conduct the first canister test of its Agni-V at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) on Wheeler Island.

According to the newspaper, over three hundred scientists from various government agencies are currently preparing for the test. The report said that “During the test, Agni-V will be fired from a sealed canister mounted on a launcher truck. With a dummy payload, the missile will be pushed out of the canister by a gas generator after which the actual stage separations will occur as per the coordination.” 

The test has been postponed twice since December owing to President Obama’s India trip and a scheduling conflict with Prime Minister Modi, who had expressed interest in watching the test in person. It’s unclear if Modi will attend the test on Saturday, however, the test is expected to proceed as scheduled in honor of outgoing DRDO chief Avinash Chander, who is widely regarded as the architect of the Agni missile class. Chander was fired earlier this month over scandals regarding Indian defense contracts.

The Agni-V is a three-stage, solid-fueled missile that can travel 5,000 km while carrying a 1,000 km payload, making it India’s longest range missile. It is often referred to as India’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in local media. Although it demonstrates mastery of all the necessary ICBM technologies, technically it is only an intermediate ballistic missile as ICBMs have ranges of at least 5,500 km.

It was quickly dubbed the “China killer” by Indian media outlets when it was first tested in 2012 because it is the first Indian ballistic missile capable of holding most of China— including major cities like Beijing— under nuclear threat. China has long had the ability to reach all of India with nuclear-armed missiles, putting Delhi at a relative disadvantage.
This will be the third time India has tested the Agni-V following the first test in 2012 and another one in 2013. A month before the second test, Tessy Thomas, the director of the Agni Missile Project at DRDO, said that the Agni-V would be tested two or three more times before being inducted into the Indian armed forces.

This raises the possibility that the Indian military will receive the missile following Saturday’s test, should it prove successful. This is especially true given that this will be a full canister test of the missile, which is one of the most highly touted advances the Agni-V makes over its predecessors. As Times of India explained following the first test, “Unlike the earlier largely rail-mobile missiles, Agni-V can be easily stored in hermetically sealed canisters and swiftly transported atop launcher trucks by road. This will give the armed forces the required operational flexibility to pick and choose from where to launch the missiles.” TOI also noted that the Agni-V boasts “a ‘highly accurate’ inertial navigation system.

Once inducted into the armed forces, DRDO will go to work on equipping future Agni-V missiles with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), which will allow each missile to carry between three and ten nuclear warheads, each of one of which can be aimed at a different target. As The National Interest has noted in the past, China is also building MIRVed missiles, setting the stage for a dangerous arms race that could destabilize nuclear Asia.

Image: Wikimedia


The Ultimate Nightmare: Why Invading North Korea Is a Really Bad Idea

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Earlier this month, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry argued for a US invasion of North Korea.

Thankfully, the general response has been quite negative (here, here and here). Invading North Korea is a terrible idea, and it is worth laying out why in some detail. I do not intend this as a particular shot against Gobry – I do not know him personally – but rather against this general idea, as it does come up now and then.

In 1994, the Clinton Administration came close to launching a massive air campaign against the North (well-discussed here). Then in the first term of President George W Bush, regime change was the watchword and North Korea was on the “axis of evil.” If the Iraq invasion had worked out, it appears other states were on the Bush hit list. Neoconservatives (neocons) love to loathe North Korea.

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I should note, however, that in my seven years working in Korea on Korean security issues, I have never heard a reputable Korean analyst argue for preemptive attack in an op-ed, at a conference, on TV, and so on. Nor have any of my hundreds of students over the years argued for this. This is a Western debate that has little resonance with the people who would mostly carry the costs – already a big problem for Gobry's argument.

1. Moral Revulsion Is Not Enough:

Gobry, and President Bush who placed North Korea on the axis of evil, both share an admirably strong moral revulsion towards North Korea which motivates their hawkishness.

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Certainly that revulsion is warranted. There is little dispute that North Korea is the worst country on earth, although perhaps the emerging ISIS 'state' is giving it a run for its money. The moral argument against North Korea became clear as early as the 1950s, when Kim Il-sung solidified control of the North and turned it into a cult of personality so servile and vicious scholars began using the neologism “Kimilsungism” to describe it.

But there are of course many nasty, awful dictatorships. Perhaps none as awful as North Korea, but certainly huge numbers of people have suffered in many other states, both powerful and weak. Mao's China comes to mind, as does Cambodia under Pol Pot, or Zimbabwe and Syria-ISIS today.

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For a brief moment under George W Bush, after his second inaugural address, it looked as if “promoting freedom around the world” might actually become US foreign policy, thereby justifying widespread global military pre-emption. But that was always wildly impractical, and the American public rejected it immediately. And if there is anything we have learned from regime change in places like Iraq and Libya it is that the unintended consequences and bloodletting can be extreme.

(Recommended: 5 U.S. Weapons of War China Should Fear

2. South Koreans really, really don't want to invade North Korea:

Much of the Western debate on North Korea assumes that South Korea will simply go along with whatever decisions emerge from Washington.

I thought the same before I moved to Korea. Like many, I figured that the ROK was a democratic ally standing “shoulder to shoulder” with the US for freedom, democracy, and so on. But South Korean foreign policy is far more realist. I have been arguing for a long time that South Koreans are not neocons and that they really don't want to up-end the status quo if it is likely to be costly.

Polls have shown for years that South Koreans fear the cost of unification, increasingly don't see North Koreans as a fellow people (for whom they should make a huge sacrifice), and don't think North Korea is a huge threat. The polls also show they dislike Japan almost as much as, if not more than, North Korea, they dislike conscription, and worry a lot that the US might do something rash and provoke a war.

Neocons like Gobry may see this as a moral failing – South Koreans slacking on the defense of democracy and their historic responsibility to end the world's worst tyranny. I will admit myself that I think South Koreans need to step up more on this. But that is ultimately for South Koreans to decide.

Far more South Koreans would like to see the two Koreas slowly grow together after North Korea has changed on its own (for example, by a coup, by Chinese pressure, or by internal breakdown). There are lots of hawks in South Korea (try here and here), but not even the most extreme argue for a preemptive invasion.

3. North Korea has Nuclear Weapons:

If the first two reasons are a little soft, this one strikes me as a show-stopper. The US has never fought a sustained conflict against a nuclear power.

Indeed, the very reason North Korea built nuclear weapons was to deter US offensive action. It is hardly a leap of logic to think that the North would launch once US ground forces arrived on its territory. Gobry assumes, far too blithely, that the US could find all the missiles and hit them before they launch. That is a helluva gamble, and certainly not one South Korea or Japan, the likely targets, want to make. At the very least, we cannot go over the heads of Seoul and Tokyo if we choose to seriously strike the North.

4. The (North) Korean People's Army Would Probably Fight:

This is a tricky debate, because we have no good opinion data on KPA morale. We guess at readiness based on drills and the ferocious-looking marches through Kim Il-sung Square and so on. But we don't know.

The neocon position in such situations is to again assume the best – that rogue state armies are paper tigers and would collapse quickly. Certainly the Iraqis did in 1991 and 2003. And I would agree that KPA would suffer revolts if pushed into an offensive against the South. But a US invasion would justify all the propaganda Northern soldiers have heard for decades. Overnight they would go from a conscript army used primarily as slave labor on construction projects to defenders of the nation against a long-foretold invasion.

Do we have any sense that the US military would be “greeted as liberators”? That is yet another huge gamble, because if we are wrong, it is a war against a state where almost every able-bodied male has extensive military training. Even in Iraq, the insurgency showed how tenacious third-world nationalism is and how easy it is for such feelings to ignite when faced with armed foreigners, however noble their intentions.

5. The People's Liberation Army Might Fight Too:

A US invasion would also set US-Chinese relations back by decades, and almost certainly push the US and China into a larger, violent, heavily militarized cold war throughout Asia.

Neocons who loathe China's repressive oligarchy might not care, but post-Iraq, that frightening insouciance about the world's second largest economy would almost certainly be a minority opinion in the West, and definitely would be among America's Asian allies who would carry most of the costs of militarized Sino-US competition.

Indeed, if the US invasion spun out of control – which is easy to envision given the North's nuclear weapons and the size of the KPA – China (and Japan) could easily get chain-ganged in. China went to war in 1950 to keep the Americans off the Yalu River, and that was a war the North started. If the US were to invade, America would suddenly look like an aggressive, aggrandizing power. It would be easy to see the PLA fight once again for essentially the same reasons.

6. Reconstruction would fall to the US:

Here is yet another Iraq lesson neocons seem blind to. When regimes like Libya or North Korea are decapitated, something new needs to be put in place.

Gobry's assumption is simply that South Korea would absorb ex-North Korea. And it probably would in more traditional collapse scenarios. But if the US were to proactively invade North Korea, it would be easy to see Southern and global opinion arguing that this is yet another mess made by belligerent Washington that it should clean up. And there is also the potential for a nasty insurgency by Kimist dead-enders, a point Gobry does not even consider.

Neocons really need to learn a few lessons from Iraq and the war on terror about the use of American force.

This piece was first posted on the Lowy Interpreter here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsNorth Korea

China's Worst Nightmare? Japan May Sell India Six Stealth Submarines

The Buzz

For years China has excelled at antagonizing Japan. Now Tokyo may have the chance to extract some revenge.

According to Indian news outlets, the Narendra Modi government has approached Japan about building it six stealth submarines.

“New Delhi has forwarded ‘a proposal’ to Tokyo to ‘consider the possibility’ of making its latest diesel-electric Soryu-class submarines in India,” Times of India reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

New Delhi’s Project-75-India to acquire six advanced diesel-electric submarines will be worth more than Rs 50,000 crore ($8 billion), and likely much more. France’s DCNS, Germany’s HDW, Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Spain’s Navantia are all expected to compete for the contract. Since the submarines will be built in India, foreign companies that wish to compete for the contract are expected to form a joint venture with an Indian shipyard.

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India’s proposal comes at a time when New Delhi and Tokyo have been steadily strengthening ties under the leadership of Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Modi and Abe, both nationalistic leaders seeking to expand their respective countries’ regional profiles, are seen as enjoying a close relationship, which could help Tokyo’s chances in the competition. That being said, France, Germany and Russia have all built submarines for India in the past, TOI noted.

The proposal also comes at a time when Japan is seeking to break into the global arms market following the lifting of a decades-old, self-imposed ban on selling weaponry abroad. Since the ban was rescinded, Japan has already discussed selling India ShinMaywa US-2i sea-and-rescue amphibious planes.

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Tokyo is especially keen on breaking into the global submarine market, which is currently dominated by countries like Russia, France and Germany. Defense analysts believe Tokyo’s Soryu-class submarines will be a highly competitive alternative to their Russian, French and German counterparts. As frequent TNI contributor Robert Farley noted last September:

“At 4,200 tons submerged, the Soryu-class is considerably larger than either the [German] Type 214, [French] Scorpene, or improved [Russian] Kilo, and can carry a much heavier weapons load. This size also makes them quieter and longer-ranged than the other boats on the market. At current price expectations of around $500 million, the Soryus are not wildly more expensive than the other boats.”

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Already, Japan has been engaged in intense discussions with Australia over the latter’s program to purchase 12 diesel-electric submarines. Winning the Project-75-India contract would be a further boon to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which manufacture the Soryu-class subs.

Still, don’t expect to see India’s Navy operating Japanese subs anytime soon. India isn’t expected to tender a winner for two years, and it will be at least another 7-8 years after that before the first subs start rolling off the assembly line. Given India’s notoriously cumbersome defense acquisition bureaucracy, these timetables should be viewed as the best case scenario.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey Jay Price.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific