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Revealed: ISIS's Lethal War Inside the West

The Buzz

Recent Reclaim Australia and anti-racism rallies in Melbourne and Sydney may not appear to have any direct association with ISIS, but a closer look reveals the imprints of the group's overall strategic objectives.

There is often a tendency at the security and defense policy level to view militant groups through the lens of sophisticated state-on-state warfare bound by resource and time limitations, and following traditional rules and strategies. However, ISIS has no resource or time limitations, and its greatest strength is its deceptive strategy. 

Having done extensive research work on understanding the psychology of militant groups, it's highly unlikely that the upper echelon of ISIS truly imagines itself (rhetoric aside) as toppling governments in the Muslim world and beyond. Rather, looking closely at ISIS's practices, media strategy, and most importantly the patterns of radicalization in the Western world, it is clear that the agenda of ISIS involves deceiving and leading Western policy-makers in a desired direction.

ISIS has made its investment in social media a priority. The aim is to inspire a radical mindset among Muslims, specifically those living in the West. It has succeeded, bringing the militant group international headlines for radicalizing Muslims living in the comfort of the West. Recruitment has multiplied and the group has become the center of Western policymakers' attention and a matter of curiosity to Muslims around the world.

Why so much focus on Muslims living in the West? Many in the policy world see this simply as a 'call' to Western Muslims to join the war in Syria and Iraq. But it's not armed support ISIS needs from these foreigners; it's the nuisance value and media buzz that ISIS desires.

It's not the end goal of ISIS to simply invite foreign fighters to join the war in Syria and Iraq to create an Islamic Caliphate. The grand goal is much more calculated and inspired by Syed Qutb's ideology of the 'near' and 'far' enemy – the notion that it's not only the West (far) that is an enemy but also the Muslims (near) who have adopted Western lifestyles and ideology. These should be the first to be guided in the right direction.

The major purpose of radicalizing young Muslims in the West is to inspire attacks on Western soil. But the real target is not Western society or its people. Attacks in Western cities may on the surface appear to be targeted against Western culture and ideology, but in reality these attacks are directed at the Muslim communities living in the Western world. ISIS understands that such attacks will spur a backlash against Muslims, thus alienating and isolating them in Western societies. If Muslims living in the West are alienated by both Western governments and their people, radical anti-Western discourse will start making sense to them.

The ultimate goal of Islamist radicals has been to unify the Muslim world against a common enemy (the West). This goal is at the core of ISIS's strategy, which is camouflaged under the rhetoric of ruling Iraq and Syria, something ISIS knows it can't manage for more than a few months. 

Western governments must realize that the real conflict ISIS wants to trigger is inside major Western cities through lone terrorist attacks and social tension between Muslim and other communities such as those we saw in Melbourne and Sydney last weekend. Understanding this strategy is essential to ensuring that Western governments do not end up alienating and thus radicalizing Muslims communities. 

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

India Is Building Second Homegrown Aircraft Carrier

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India’s Navy has outlined the some of the specifications for a second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2) in a letter of request to global shipbuilders.

According to several Indian newspapers, last week India’s Navy sent out a Letter of Request to four global shipbuilding companies asking for help in designing India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier.

The LoR specifies that India would like to build a 300-meter long aircraft carrier that displaces 65,000 tons. The Navy also said that the ship should be able to travel at 30 knots.

In addition, the LoR says that the aircraft carrier will carry 30-35 fixed wing combat aircraft and about 20 rotary wing aircraft.

In contrast to India’s existing aircraft carriers, which utilize ski-jump launch systems, the LoR for IAC-2 says the ship will have a catapult launched but arrested landing (CATOBAR) system.

It did hold out the possibility that the new aircraft carrier would ultimately utilize an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS). Currently, only the United States’ latest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, uses EMALS to launch fixed-wing aircraft.

The four companies that received the letter are: the U.S.-based Lockheed Martin; the U.K.-based BAE Systems; French shipbuilder, DCNS; and Russia’s Rosoboronexport. A representative from BAE systems has confirmed it has received the LoR from India’s Navy.

While much too early to say, it is likely that Lockheed Martin and Rosoboronexport are seen as the frontrunners to win the contract. India has a long and extensive history of defense cooperation with Russia. Indeed, India’s Navy currently operates a modified Kiev-class carrier, INS Vikramaditya, which India purchased from Russia.

Meanwhile, the United States has been deepening its military cooperation with India in recent years. In fact, earlier this year it was announced that the United States is considering helping India expand its aircraft carrier fleet.

A joint statement released by the two countries back in January said that they were forming a working group to explore Washington providing Delhi with aircraft carrier technology. Both countries view China’s rising military power as a long-term threat, and have sought to expand cooperation in order to balance against that threat.

On the other hand, in the past Delhi has also purchased a former British aircraft carrier. And, according to India’s Business Standard, IAC-2 is similar to the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier (in terms of speed and size, though not in displacement), and the British Queen Elizabeth II aircraft carrier (in terms of displacement and size, though not in speed).

India is currently testing its much delayed first homegrown aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. That carrier, which will displace 40,000 tons, is expected to become operational in 2018, roughly five years late. It has also been hit by major cost overruns, and the total cost is now expected to be around $4 billion.

The LoR follows India allocating funding to begin conceptual work on IAC-2. Back in May, the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), which is chaired by India’s defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, approved a slew of deals, including allocating 30 crore (roughly $5 million) to build India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier.

Notably, last week’s LoR did not specify what kind of propulsion system would be used to power the new aircraft carrier, which is expected to be called, INS Viraat. India currently operates a British-made carrier under the same name. That carrier is expected to be retired by the end of the decade.

Whenever IAC-2 becomes operational, it is believed that it will take the place of INS Vikramaditya, the aforementioned Russian-built vessel.    

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

Image: Wikimedia/India’s Navy

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

A Russian Role in Central Asia That America Can Live With

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The ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine casts a long shadow over areas of shared American and Russian interest, making the Obama administration’s 2009 “reset” in relations appear a distant memory. However perceptions have shifted in the intervening six years, common concerns still exist between Washington and Moscow; chief among them: terrorism. For this reason, U.S. officials can look with (quiet) approval to Russia’s pursuit of a more robust security presence in Central Asia. 

In April, the commander of Russia’s Tajikistan-based 201st Motorized Division indicated that Moscow would increase its deployments in the Central Asian republic from 5,900 troops to 9,000 by 2020.

The announcement proved timely. Just two months later, Tajikistan made international headlines. Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, a senior officer in the country’s national police force left for Syria and defected to the Islamic State (ISIS) in a highly publicized video produced by the extremist group.

Then, on July 16, Kyrgyzstan’s GKNB security services killed six gunmen in two shootout incidents in the capital Bishkek. Kyrgyz police captured seven others in the aftermath. GKNB officials say the militants were ISIS members and believe they were planning attacks in Bishkek’s central square and at the Russian Air Force base in Kant. The impact of Khalimov’s defection and possible Islamic State activity in the region should not be exaggerated. Still, the Central Asian republics, Russia, and the United States should be prepared to contain ISIS before more episodes occur.

It is tempting to view Moscow’s heightened presence in Central Asia in the context of the Russia-West divide and the Ukraine crisis. However, Russia’s security interests in the region are longstanding. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have close relationships with Russia and are all members of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Russia’s ties to these states can allow it to play a constructive role in stemming militant activity. 

By boosting its military profile in Tajikistan, Russia is aiming to resolve a persistent issue in its post-Soviet security doctrine. For the Kremlin, the border between Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics is a gateway to Russia, even though these countries left Moscow’s control in 1991 and four of them do not even share a direct land border with Russia. This position is not without merit. After all, the Russia-Kazakhstan border was designed as an internal administrative boundary, not an international frontier.

Tajikistan represents a particularly problematic case for Moscow. One million migrant workers from the Central Asian republic live in Russia, according to the Russian Federal Migration Service. Only 10 percent of foreign laborers in Russia are working legally, meaning the number of Tajiks in the country may be even higher. Remittances from these workers totaled $4 billion USD in 2013, or 52 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP. Thus, for Dushanbe, what happens in Russia does not stay in Russia. Likewise, events in Tajikistan can roil the Russian Federation via the large migrant worker community there.

In that regard, it is notable that in his June video recorded by ISIS, Colonel Khalimov spoke in Russian. This is quite telling. The erstwhile security chief targeted his remarks at the regime of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, even though many citizens (especially those born after the Soviet collapse) have at best a loose grasp of the Russian language. But most Tajiks fighting for ISIS are not lifelong residents of the Central Asian republic. Rather, they are migrant workers who have spent time in Russia. Exposed to poor working conditions and pressure from xenophobic elements, these workers become prime targets for recruitment by Islamic fundamentalist causes. In Russia, Central Asian laborers often find themselves involved with North Caucasus-based militant groups or with extremist organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir.

If instability in Afghanistan spreads to neighboring Tajikistan, Russia will undoubtedly feel the impact. Such an eventuality is hardly unprecedented. From 1992-1997, the Islamist Tajik opposition, backed by Afghan militants, fought a bloody civil war against President Rahmon’s Russian-supported Popular Front. Already home to so many Tajik workers, Russia could make a convenient destination for refugees should violent unrest visit the Central Asian republic once more. Moscow therefore has an interest in containing violence south of the former Soviet frontier. 

The United States is likewise concerned about the spread of extremism in Afghanistan and Central Asia, which threatens advances made there by American-led forces at the cost of thousands of lives. The extension of ISIS influence to the post-Soviet space can also come back to haunt the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East.

While Washington maintains important security links with the Central Asian republics, its policy toward the region is primarily a function of the War in Afghanistan. It follows that U.S. security assistance to the Central Asian states is declining as American military operations wind down. Indeed, under the National Defense Authorization Act, Washington provided Tajikistan with $15.4 million in military aid during Fiscal Year 2012. In the first half of FY 2014, Dushanbe received just $1.1 million. Other countries faced even more substantial cuts during the same period. Kazakhstan benefited from $8.7 million in NDAA aid in FY 2012 but received only $187,000 in the first half of FY 2014.

As the U.S. and NATO presence in the area wanes, Russia can act as a pillar of stability. President Barack Obama’s pledge to withdraw all American troops by the end of his term in 2017 adds a sort of time constraint to Moscow’s task of securing the corridor between Russia and Afghanistan.

Of course, some in the West will be prone to see Russian imperialism wherever Moscow acts. Russia’s actions in Georgia and Ukraine lend some merit to this view. However, Russian influence will hardly go unchecked in Central Asia, as Moscow is no longer alone in the region. The United States built strategic partnerships in the area during the War in Afghanistan, while China continues to champion massive economic projects and infrastructure developments. Chinese trade with Central Asia totaled $28 billion in 2010, while Russian trade reached just $15 billion. Beijing has even managed to break Russia’s monopoly on energy transit routes from the region with projects such as the Turkmenistan-China natural gas pipeline. 

In addition to its concrete security concerns, Russia does seek respect as the primary power in Central Asia. However, this objective rests on vague notions of influence and prestige, concepts that can be bent and accommodated by Beijing and Washington. The United States can even pursue low-level cooperation with Russia in Central Asia. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg already endorsed counterterrorism collaboration between Moscow and the Western alliance in the wake of January’s Charlie Hebdo attacks in France. Where political concerns prevent direct coordination, the two countries can undertake intelligence sharing and partnership by proxy through the republics in the region that share strong security relationships with both Russia and the United States.

It is highly unlikely that Moscow desires an extensive presence in Afghanistan itself comparable to the U.S. role after 2001, owing to Russia’s own limitations and memories of the failed Soviet war effort in the 1980s. Still, Russia will strengthen its ties with Kabul and the Central Asian states to Afghanistan’s north. The expansion of Russia’s military presence in Tajikistan, and even the potential return of Russian soldiers to the porous Tajik-Afghan border (Moscow stationed troops there until 2005) in the future, should be met with tacit acceptance and quiet support from the United States as this achieves an American objective—containing terrorist threats—in a region where Washington is reducing its presence. Respecting shared interests in one area may even provide the future basis for the United States and Russia to negotiate where their interests clash.

Evan Gottesman is an editorial assistant at The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter at @EvanGottesman.

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia

Germany's Next Big Move: European Political and Fiscal Union?

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The Greek parliament has voted through the preliminary conditions of a third bailout presented as an ultimatum to Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras in Brussels last weekend. Unsurprisingly, the streets are restive.

But otherwise Greece's capitulation is complete.

With this victory (of sorts) up her sleeve, what will Angela Merkel's next move be?

Last week, I suggested elsewhere that, by pushing the European Union to breaking point over Greece, the German Chancellor had already failed the test of statesmanship. That judgment looks no less correct this week. On the contrary, Germany's reputation has taken a battering on both sides of the Atlantic.

But it shouldn't be taken to mean that Merkel doesn't have a plan, or at least a sense of what she wants. A long biography in the New Yorker last December described her as haunted by the idea of Europe's lack of global competitiveness: proverbially, "7 per cent of the world's population, 25 per cent of its economic output and 50 per cent of its social welfare".

Indeed, Berlin went into Sunday's summit apparently determined to impose its vision of economic rectitude on Greece or chuck it out of the euro.

Merkel took no prisoners.

In effect, Greece will become a Eurozone protectorate. Indeed, last night the Greek parliament made about the biggest surrender of national sovereignty it's possible to imagine one country demanding of another in peacetime. In an interview with The Guardian, Jürgen Habermas said that Germany had "openly made a claim for German hegemony in Europe."

This will send a chill around the other capitals of Europe.

This is particularly true in the Mediterranean south where many countries still face the productivity and competitiveness challenges that lie at the bottom of Greece's travails within the euro.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, cannot have understood the full significance of what he was saying when he described the bailout as "a typical European arrangement."

Comparisons have been made with the punitive 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

But a better analogy is probably the Council of the Public Debt imposed on the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the 1878 Congress of Berlin, when Istanbul appeared about to default on enormous debts to British and French banks. The Council managed Ottoman revenues in bondholders' favor until the resentment it aroused helped push the Porte to side with Germany in 1914.

A similar debt crisis brought British administrators to Egypt in 1882: what started as a temporary occupation lasted until 1952.

There's always been something quasi-colonial about the "European project."

During the Cold War, European integration was as much about consolidating liberal democracy and market capitalism in southern Europe—Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal—whose corporatist and authoritarian traditions were but the flipside of locally strong Communist and left-wing movements, as about preventing the next world war.

But this was feasible only as long as it was seen as being voluntary and above all consistent with the democratic values it hoped to instill.

The German power play in Brussels left that in smithereens.

The "technocratic" governments installed (apparently at German insistence) in Athens and Rome in 2011 were tolerable inasmuch as they appeared as domestic crises driven by the pressure of the markets. But last Sunday's ultimatum came directly from the chancelleries of Europe—above all, Germany and the crescent of northern and central states grouped around it: Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Finland.

This reflects two long-term historical and geopolitical trends.

The collapse of Communism long ago removed any pressing need to indulge southern Europe's leftists. The massive increase of German influence in formerly Eastern-bloc and Soviet Europe that followed EU expansion now pits the interests of the new Baltic members against the old ones from the Mediterranean.

That Greece is still in the euro at all is being reported as the signal victory of France. And though since their own mid-2012 debt crises, Rome and Madrid have lived only by the (grudging) grace of the European Central Bank, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is said to have told Merkel that "enough is enough."

That might have stayed Greece's expulsion from the euro. But that a Brussels official could describe German negotiating tactics as "waterboarding" reflects frustration with a German government insouciant about the dance of European unity that the European Commission has choreographed for six decades.

For there have always been two parts to the European project: the utilitarian and the mythic. By forcing the harmonization of fiscal policy across the Continent, Germany's actions at Brussels may ultimately strengthen the former. But they sound a death knell for the latter impossible to miss.

With Greece's surrender so many of the old EU myths have gone, and it's worth trying to take stock of what remains.

The euro is the D-mark by another name. The currency union France insisted upon for binding German power to European (read: French) goals after reunification has instead turned into an instrument for binding the rest of Europe to Germany. To compete in the 21st century, Germany intends to realize a leaner, more disciplined Eurozone—with Greece as a cautionary example.

Berlin will face resistance. But that resistance is more disunited and less well organized than its supporters.

Europe's "Franco-German" engine is dead. Paris can still mount a limited rearguard action. But Germany sets the limits of the possible, thanks in part to a ring of satellite states, more or less integrated into its export-based economy and aligned culturally and politically with it.

Meanwhile, Britain—Europe's second-biggest economy—is still lost somewhere in a North Sea fog.

The euro crisis long ago vindicated London's profound skepticism about the wisdom of the single currency. But this hasn't increased British influence. If London has an alternative to Germany's vision of Europe, now is the time to present it. (Indeed, as it prepares to vote on leaving the EU, Britain will have to.)

This all leaves pondering Merkel's next move.

Some have suggested that, with Greece humiliated and the rest of the Eurozone cowed into submission, Merkel should now push for European political and fiscal unification on German terms to set the euro on a sound footing.

If she did, Bismarck—who engineered a series of international crises humiliating Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1870) to bring about German unity under Prussian leadership—might even smile at the wiles of Germany's present chancellor.

For if an analogy with a Treaty of Versailles must be found, that of 1871—when a united Germany was at last proclaimed—is a better bet. Germany's ascendant position in Europe today recalls Prussia's in Germany on the eve of the French defeat at Sedan in 1870 and the European sovereign debt crisis of 2010-15 has left Merkel with a tidy record of humiliations of her own: Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy.

The next German federal election is due in 2017. Could Europe be united on her watch?

Perhaps Merkel could go to the brink on Sunday because Greece's fate has been secondary all along.

The main aim has been to encourager les autres.

Matthew Dal Santo is a Danish Research Council post-doctoral fellow at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen. Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewDalSant1. This piece first appeared in ABC’s The Drum here.

TopicsEconomics RegionsAsia

Revealed: The Real Reason China Freaked over Its Stock Market Dive

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China's GDP data for the second quarter of 2015 was released Wednesday. The headline number of 7% growth was perfectly in line with China's growth target for 2015, and was unchanged from the first quarter. These headline numbers indicate how much the economy has grown from a year earlier. Quarter-on-quarter growth picked up from 1.4% in the first quarter to 1.7% in the second quarter.

My Twitter feed filled up with more skepticism than usual about these numbers. Notably, during the press conference that follows the data release, the Financial Times asked the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) about the quality of the GDP deflator. FT had reported on concerns about the deflator in June. For what it is worth, I think such concerns are probably overdone.

In any case, there was a different number that caught my eye. According to the NBS, 60% of GDP growth was accounted for by consumption in the first half of the year, up 5.7 percentage points from last year. Until this point, China has moved at an almost glacial pace toward more consumption-driven growth. We may be witnessing the start of a more distinct shift. These numbers reflect changes in volumes, rather than prices. I've written before about shifts in prices, and why falling commodity prices may see the share of consumption in GDP increase.

But we need to be careful. Financial services, some of which are used in consumption, contributed significantly to growth in the first and second quarters. Financial services grew by 17.4% over the first half of the year, compared to the first half of last year. The next best industry was 'Other Services', at around 9%. Booming stock markets contributed to the growth, as turnover in the Shanghai and Shenzhen bourses increased. However, that boom is finished. The markets are now a shadow of their former selves. It will be interesting to see how this is reflected in the next GDP release.

The recent plunge in stock prices has attracted many headlines. We've seen falls of around 25% in the last few weeks. But this correction isn't close to the worst falls seen in China over the last 10 years. There was a bloodbath in 2007-08, when the Shanghai Composite Index fell from 6000 to 2000. Yet that bloodbath had little material effect on the economy.

The stock market does not look to be of systemic importance to the Chinese economy. It is relatively small, it is not a major source of finance for firms, and stocks are not widely held. The stock-market falls will likely see some effect on GDP numbers because there will be lower financial-services demanded in the economy, but I don't anticipate the recent ructions precipitating any sort of crisis. Some estimates I've seen suggest something like a 0.2 percentage point subtraction from growth in the third quarter—small stuff.

There is, nonetheless, something disconcerting about recent events in the Chinese stock market. The Chinese authorities have moved to aggressively support equity prices, even though stocks still appear over-valued. This is a far cry from the rhetoric that came out of the Third Plenum in 2013, where market forces were championed. If the stock market is not a systemically important part of the Chinese economy, why intervene like this? It has me a little confused.

One explanation focuses on the boom that preceded the bust. There were many cheerleaders who talked breathlessly of the boom in stock prices, even though it looked to be fueled by unsustainable margin lending. Some of these cheerleaders included state media. It looks like authorities staked some of their prestige on the boom, and cannot countenance the bust. If true, that's concerning.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsAsia

Legal Face Off: Is China Making a Big Mistake in the South China Sea?

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The Hague hearing on jurisdiction and admissibility of the South China Sea arbitration case has come to an end on July 13 after a weeklong process without China’s participation. The hearing has become a heated headline for medias, governments, and scholars for the past week. Questions include whether the Arbitral Tribunal will issue a decision on the jurisdiction and admissibility on July 13, who the decision might favor, to what extend the Tribunal may render its jurisdiction, if there is any, the reaction of China and the Philippines might be, and what might be the take-away for countries who sent observers to the hearing, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Japan.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman has reiterated China’s position of “no accepting and no participating” in The Hague process, and accused as usual the Philippines’ of violating its commitment through the 2002 Declaration on Conduct (DoC) to solve the dispute through negotiations. Most traditional Chinese media stories repeated Chinese government’ position through various forms of interviews. Social media such as Weibo and Wechat invited discussions and debates among young people whose interests range widely from symbolic nationalism to geopolitics and security. Scholars of international law support China’s position by elaborating on the December 7, 2014 Position Paper of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Matter of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration, arguing that the Tribunal manifestly has no jurisdiction.

Despite the overwhelming support in China of its position, experts and the general public also have concerns. First, the case presented by the Philippines constitutes, at its core, a land territorial sovereignty dispute and the relevant maritime delimitation, which is excluded from the third party compulsory dispute settlement mechanism under UNCLOS, through China’s 2006 declaration. However, the way the Philippines presented its claim–it has cleverly attempted to de-link its claims from the terms of “territory,” “maritime delimitation,” and “historic title,” with the support of the experienced legal team from the United States–might have a substantial impact on the Arbitration Tribunal. China, may in turn, miss the chance to express its position in a professional legal way, as it did through the December 7, 2014 position paper. It is also questionable whether the messages that China intends to convey through amicus curiae (“friends of the court”) publications reach the five arbitrators and how much weight these may carry as effective “replies” to the Memorial of the Philippines.

In addition to the specifics of the legal debate, China’s international image is another key issue that is worrisome to many. The international media has been skewed in its writing about the escalation of the South China Sea disputes, and often depicts China’s growing assertiveness in pursing its maritime claims. China’s refusal to participate in the Arbitration is often cited by media as disrespecting the value of international law, despite Beijing’s efforts to convince itself and the world that the Tribunal does not have jurisdiction.

The interests shown in the hearing by other countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Japan also send signals to China as it considered possible future international litigation or arbitration of the complex territorial and maritime dispute in this region. The decision by the Tribunal, be it “no jurisdiction,” “partial jurisdiction,” or “full jurisdiction” on the Philippines’ claim, will allow other countries in the region to draw conclusions about the possibility of resorting to a third party forum for maritime dispute settlement. The position taken by China in this legal battle with the Philippines might not be a standard solution that works best for it if additional cases are brought in the future.

The Statement on the South China Sea issued by the Taiwan authority on July 7, 2015, is a timely response to the hearing at The Hague. In addition to reiterating the  ROC’s position on its sovereignty claim over the four archipelago groups in the South China Sea, the statement focuses mainly on the legal nature of Taiping Island (Itu Aba), the biggest naturally formed feature in the Spratlys. Taiwan holds that Taiping Island indisputably qualifies as an “island” according to Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and can sustain human habitation and economic life of its own. Taipei’s statement that “[a]ny claims by other countries which aim to deny this fact will not impair the legal status of Taiping Island (Itu Aba) and its maritime rights based on UNCLOS,” is obviously a firm response to the claims by the Philippines’ legal team that deems Ita Aba a “rock.” Though there has been no official comment from Beijing on Taipei’s statement, which implies that the two governments across the strait share the same claim in the South China Sea, the declaration has defused China’s concerns that the Taiwan government might change its position on the South China Sea due to pressures from the United States. Interestingly, the Taipei’s statement did not mention the U-shaped Line, which is also a major part of the Philippines’ case. Whether this is a signal that the Taiwan government may abandon this line or deliberately overlook it remains a question, and one that will be especially salient following the “presidential campaign” in Taiwan in 2016.

There are two possible scenarios after the hearing. No matter which party wins the case, the award will be legally ineffective for resolving the disputes presented. If China loses the case, its claims will remain the same and its preference for solving the South China dispute through negotiations will not change. If the Philippines loses the case, it can be expected to drop this particular legal case against China. But it will not drop its objections altogether, due to the unresolved core territorial and maritime disputes between these two states. These will still need to be addressed between the two governments through negotiation.

The Philippines has been widely praised for setting the precedent of resorting to  a third-party compulsory settlement mechanism to deal with the multiple overlapping claims in the South China Sea, and the value of the compulsory dispute settlement mechanism provided by UNLCOS should not be underestimated. The impact of the arbitration case on regional security, however, should also not be overlooked, given the complex nature of the disputes involving both sovereignty and maritime delimitation. In the short term, the arbitration case has increased tensions in the South China Sea and has delayed both cooperation and progress towards an agreed Code of Conduct. Over the long term, it may clarify some legal issues, but this comes at the risk of undermining the international dispute settlement process. The South China Sea arbitration case has proven to be a typical example of a political game of international law.

This piece first appeared on the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative's website here

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

From Cold War to Hot Peace: Why the Mighty BRICS Matter

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As BRICS leaders met in Ufa, Russia, for their annual meeting recently, there were expectations and anxieties galore. The group met as tensions between Russia and NATO rose, Europe's circus of the absurd (the Greece crisis) continued, impending global agreements on sustainable development and climate action were being negotiated, and celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the UN approached in New York. All of this at a time when the liberal international order was shown to be inept at managing radicalism, barbarism, parochialism and illiberalism across the world.

The BRICS member states are also experiencing their own specific political moments. Russia is struggling to cope up with the dynamics of the energy sector economy and is involved in an intractable conflict in its neighborhood. Brazil seems to have lost the 'Lula mojo' and is fighting economic and political inner demons. South Africa and its enthusiasm for being the gateway to Africa has suffered a body blow with reports of a series of fatal attacks on African migrants. India is pre-occupied with rewriting its story under the tireless outreach of Prime Minister Modi, who is exclusively focused on reshaping India's economic trajectory. And then there is China, which is putting together the plans and institutions that might soon constitute the 'Beijing Consensus' that could dominate the geo-economic landscape over the next few decades.

The 77-paragraph outcomes statement from the summit was inevitably going to be a list of ideas that would cater to different expectations and aspirations of each of its members.

What BRICS means for Russia

For Russia, the political takeaways are the key. If one was to go through the list of Russian proposals on BRICS cooperation in the months leading up to the summit (some at the official level others at track II dialogues), you would detect an aspiration to create a political aggregation among the BRICS collective. These proposals included an ambitious agreement on cyber security, cooperation on outer space, peace and conflict treaties, a proposal on planetary defense, a new agreement on non-aggression and peaceful co-existence, non-proliferation arrangements around new technologies and even a new arms control and export control regime.

As Russia's global legitimacy shrinks, the role of BRICS as a legitimizing platform becomes more important for Moscow.

For many Russians, the world has moved on from the Cold War of the last century to the 'Hot Peace' of the current one. To them, BRICS must be a force for stability, and one that can counter what they see as the eastward expansion of the Atlantic alliance. That the official statement covers some of these Russian ideas (watered down, no doubt) is Russia's gain.

What BRICS means for China

The import of BRICS for the Chinese is starkly different. They are in the process of resetting some key rules that have defined postwar geo-politics and geo-economics. To them, BRICS may be another platform that will institutionalize and promote those facets of global engagement that benefit China. While confrontation between Russia and NATO is something from which Beijing would wish to keep a healthy distance, China's leaders realize that a beleaguered Russia offers them a chance to consolidate their 'March west' agenda, through the central Asian and Eurasian landmass and into the heart of the EU.

Still, never in their wildest dreams would China's leaders have imagined the servility Russia is now demonstrating.

A Russia that once killed the opportunity to integrate with Western Europe because Moscow was unwilling to play anything less than 'big brother' now seems willing to play second fiddle to the Chinese dragon. Such was the level of kowtowing to China's ambitions and agenda that many at the track II meetings over the past couple of months remarked that Russia had officially replaced South Africa as China's 'B Team' within BRICS. One Russian proposition went so far as to suggest that the New Development Bank (NDB; a joint BRICS development bank but one which is strongly influenced by Beijing) must support and lend to the Chinese One Belt One Road initiative. This was reminiscent of the concentration of all financial flows in the past century serving to reinforce US power.

But for Beijing, BRICS could offer three key benefits vital for its national project. First, BRICS offers a truly large economic landscape on which the experiment to internationalize the Renminbi could begin. The NDB, the trade cooperation agreement and the economic cooperation pact among BRICS could facilitate this. The second key advantage has to be diversification of the Chinese product market by moving towards an eventual BRICS Free Trade Zone, seeds for which were planted in Ufa.

The final advantage of BRICS for China is the affirmation it gives to the legitimacy of the Chinese system, something no democratic bloc has accorded Beijing before. Outside the BRICS context, it's hard to imagine Brazil, South Africa and India discussing, defending and promoting the Beijing Consensus, which is premised on everything these three democracies otherwise abhor. BRICS gives the Chinese dragon the license to drive a wedge in the liberal order.

What BRICS means for South Africa

South Africa is a BRICS anomaly; it is dwarfed in demographic and physical size by the others in the group. Yet it is this anomaly that makes the BRICS gambit so important for South Africa – effectively acting as its ticket into the big league. Pretoria has been promised a regional hub of the BRICS bank, which means South Africa will be the node for BRICS into Africa. This puts a potent tool in South African hands but also saddles it with the responsibility of reconciling its differences with other African economies and polities.

What BRICS means for Brazil

Brazil is struggling to define its role in BRICS, with its attendance reduced to the mundane. Much of this has been due to the Government being bogged down by domestic problems, leading to a loss of the momentum that President Lula had injected. For a country that is still searching for its place in the world, the Lula vision was to move Brazil from being merely 'that big country on the left of the map' to becoming a critical partner in the Asian century. BRICS provided it a free ride to undertake this ambitious plan. But it remains to be seen how and when Brazil will overcome its inertia.

What BRICS means for India

Finally we have India, in many ways the proverbial swing state for which BRICS could offer the flexibility it needs and without which the BRICS would not just lose its 'I' but also a fair part of its identity. For a country that is slowly but surely exhibiting signs of becoming part of the liberal order it once opposed, BRICS is the rhetorical, normative and tactical vehicle to affect its transition from 'trade union leader' to 'global manager'.

The BRICS rubric also allows for sustained engagement with China, which could build multiple dependencies. It enables India to demonstrate muscularity on its border dispute with China while concurrently embracing it. For example, the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank enable India to participate in Beijing's ambitions and benefit from it (it needs huge doses of commercial loans and development finance) without being socialized into 'Pax Sinica'.

BRICS will be beneficial for India if it opts for pragmatism over ideology and sees the Beijing Consensus as means of shaping the discourse of the 'east' until it is able to script one of its own. On the other hand, if Delhi chooses to play the ideological card, it will end up on the wrong end of the bargain as it did with the Washington Consensus – staying out and consequently being excluded from the mechanisms and institutions that shape global development and direct global capital.

BRICS is also the last hand India has to play with Russia, given the dwindling interdependence between the two states. India fears continental encirclement, owing to increased Russian engagement with Pakistan (visible in the diluted treatment of counter-terrorism in the BRICS outcomes statement) and what it believes is a Russian slide into China's orbit. Consequently, it will be through the normative processes as well as the economics of the BRICS grouping that India can maintain a serious balancing play with Moscow.

Finally we must acknowledge that for all the talk of a rising democratic India being welcomed with open arms by the great powers, India's acceptance into the Western-led global order has been lukewarm. A deeper integration into BRICS, as the outcomes statement promises, will give Delhi far greater bargaining power in negotiating its place within the global political and economic governance institutions currently dominated by the West.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here.

Image: Office of the President, Russian Federation. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Obama's Folly: The Iran Deal Disaster

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In his press conference on Wednesday, President Obama said that his deal with Iran is the best outcome that could be achieved.  History proves otherwise.  Unlike past successful non-proliferation efforts with respect to states seeking nuclear weapons, this deal moves Iran further down the path toward obtaining a nuclear weapon. Indeed, the deal actually recognizes Iran’s "right" to enrich uranium and Iran will keep at least five thousand nuclear centrifuges spinning into the future. Six previous United Nations Security Council Resolutions stated the opposite. Iran flouted those resolutions and is now being rewarded for its clandestine and illegal nuclear enrichment activity.

When South Africa, for example, ended its nuclear weapons program in 1992, it not only dismantled its weapons stockpile, the country completely shut down its entire nuclear weapons program under IAEA supervision. When Libya came clean on its weapons of mass destruction program, it turned over every scrap of illegal material and dismantled its weapons making infrastructure. Not so here. Iran will keep the Fordow bunker “for nuclear research.” It will keep its Arak reactor (albeit, modified) and all other illicit sites it developed to build an atom bomb. South Africa and Libya were non-proliferation success stories. This Iran deal is not.

Iran is a sworn enemy of the United States. It is a revolutionary regime that is committed to changing the contours of the entire Middle East and destroying America’s key regional ally, Israel. Iran has held American diplomats hostage, currently holds Americans, including journalists, hostage and has killed hundreds of American servicemen and women in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, directly or through proxies, since taking power. There is simply no evidence to support the idea that we can trust revolutionary Iran to give up its long-term goal of developing a nuclear weapon and delivery systems.

In addition to legitimizing Iran’s now supposedly "peaceful" atomic program, the deal will likely lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It is hard to imagine that Sunni states such as Egypt, Turkey and, especially, Saudi Arabia, will not immediately begin the process of procuring nuclear arms on their own or from a sympathetic third country like Pakistan to counter Iran, which will in essence be an internationally recognized nuclear threshold state.

Further, Iran will receive tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. In addition to expanding its own military forces, there is no doubt that much of that money will be funneled to Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria, Shia militias in Iraq and Houthis rebels in Yemen, not to mention Hamas in Gaza, which Iran has supported in the past. All of these groups are at war with or threaten America's friends and allies in the region. The economics of this deal will surely increase the volatility of an already dangerous region.

President Obama claims that without this deal, the current sanctions regime covering Iran would have crumbled. This claim strains credulity. Nations that wanted to drop sanctions and trade with Iran would face the prospect of being frozen out of world banking and trade systems. Siding with Iran over America and her fifty plus allies around the world, not to mention most Arab states, which have the same interest as America in keeping up pressure on Iran, would be an unlikely step for most nations. However, when Iran is discovered to have flouted this deal just as it has flouted UN sanctions and the Non Proliferation Treaty over the years, it will be difficult to reimpose crippling sanctions on Tehran. The bottom line is that it’s far less likely that “snap back” sanctions will ever be imposed on Iran than the current sanctions regime would have crumbled.

It is unprecedented that President Obama is taking this major and likely damaging step in the foreign policy arena with absolutely no bipartisan support. This deal with revolutionary Iran will be opposed by all leading Republican candidates for president. It will be overwhelmingly rejected by Republican members of the House and Senate. Our closest ally in the region and the Middle East’s only true democracy, Israel, is dead set against deal. The same is true for our key Arab allies. In response, the president in his press conference lumped Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, “the Israeli Ambassador” and “the Republican Leadership” into a group that must argue for a new Middle Eastern “war” as the only viable alternative to his deal with Iran’s Supreme Leader. This straw man argument that America only has a choice between the president’s weak deal and “war” is so discredited as to no longer merit a serious response.  

After Prime Minister Chamberlain signed the Munich Accords with the Supreme Leader of another ideological and cruel regime, Winston Churchill said in Parliament that the British people “should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road..." Sadly, his prophetic warning in 1938 appears to be applicable to us today.

Robert C. O'Brien is the California Managing Partner of a national law firm. He served as a US Representative to the United Nations.  He is a Senior Advisor to Governor Scott Walker. His writings on foreign policy and national security are available at He can be followed on Twitter: @robertcobrien.

TopicsPolitics RegionsMiddle East

Time For A Stronger U.S.-Australia Alliance?

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Having just read the joint CSIS-ANU 'audit' of the U.S. alliance, published this week, a few of us here in Australia wondered whether the Australian public would support the sort of intensified alliance proposed by the report's authors.

It has been said that the finer points of foreign policy don't decide elections here in Australia. So, does it even matter what the great unwashed thinks about the alliance? As one commentator has pointed out, “the last mainstream Australian politician to openly criticize United States policy was Mark Latham, and look what happened to him at the ballot box.” The unpopularity of Australia's participation with its alliance partner in the Iraq war must have contributed to some degree to the Howard government loss in 2007.

So, perhaps one shouldn't blithely dismiss the relevance of public opinion on foreign policy generally, and the U.S. alliance in particular.

The report, The ANZUS Alliance in an Ascending Asia, has three main policy recommendations for the alliance:

1.     It should refocus on the Asia Pacific

2.     It should serve as a 'central hub for Asian regional order and architecture'.

3.     It should play a leading role in enhancing maritime security in the region.


The sorts of practical measures proposed include working more closely together with partners such as India and Indonesia in 'minilateral' security processes, along the lines of the increased cooperation between Australia, Japan and the U.S. in the past few years (this week, Japan is for the first time participating in the Talisman Sabre exercise with Australian and US military forces). In the maritime arena, the report recommends Australia and New Zealand provide “badly needed strategic operating locations” to compensate for the limited U.S. presence in the South Pacific. Other recommendations include sharing Australia's technological expertise and capability (radars, remote sensing), and more combined maritime operations to ensure open sea lines of communication.

None of this should pose much of a problem from the perspective of Australian public opinion.

The report's authors note the strong support for the alliance recorded in Lowy Institute Polls (now with 11 years of data on support for the alliance — check it out on our upgraded interactive tool) and from other polls, including those by ANU.

Even more persuasive evidence (not picked up in the report) is Australian support for basing U.S. forces here in Australia, regardless of China's condemnation of the 2011 announcement that U.S. Marines would have a permanent presence in Darwin. In 2011, before the Darwin announcement, a majority (55%) of Australians were in favor of “Australia allowing the United States to base U.S. military forces here in Australia.” Asked again in 2013, support was even stronger, with 61% of us in favor.

It is the first recommendation in the report – the 'refocus' on the Asia Pacific, which may cause problems for the punters, inoffensive as it sounds.

Australians are confident that the U.S. will continue to guarantee Australia's security well into the future, with two-thirds (66%) of the adult population in our 2013 Poll saying it's likely “Australia will still be able to rely on the alliance in 20 years' time.” However, they are far less enthusiastic about the reciprocal support Australia might be pressed to provide, particularly in inconvenient places like Asia.

In our 2013 Poll, we asked whether Australia “should act in accordance with our security alliance with the US even if it means supporting US military action” (a) “in the Middle East, for example, against Iran,” or (b) “in Asia, for example, in a conflict between China and Japan.” Less than half (48%) thought we should support US action in the Middle East. Even fewer (38%) would support US military action in Asia. Three-quarters (76%) thought Australia should only support US military action if it is authorized by the UN. 

In short, most Australians want the U.S. to support us in times of need, but aren't necessarily prepared to return the favor, as Rory Medcalf pointed out at the time.

It's not just public opinion that trends in this direction. As Michael Green et al point out in their report, the Australian Government is free-riding on the alliance as well, with Australia's defense budget in 2012 at its lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1938. Recognizing this, the Abbott Government has begun to redress the imbalance with a significant boost to the Defense budget in 2014 and a more modest one in 2015.

The Asia 'refocus' recommendation is controversial because, reading more closely, it involves some tough prioritizing for Australia. The argument made in the report is that Australia's military involvement in the Middle East (which is more palatable to the Australian public) has distracted us and diverted funds from the “needed geopolitical focus on challenges in the Asia-Pacific” (less palatable to the Australian public). The corollary is that while Australia needs to refocus, the U.S. needs to reconsider its demands on us, because Australia cannot afford significant military commitments in both the Middle East and Asia Pacific. It has to choose.

This all makes perfect sense from a strategic point of view. The soon-to-be released Defense White Paper may well recommend similar policy shifts. But if these are up for serious consideration by Government, it needs to be with the full realization that they will require persuasive selling to win over a nervous Australian public.

 This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Flickr/ Office of the Prime Minister. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

India's Top Banker: World Heading towards New Great Depression?

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The head of India’s central bank, who predicted the 2007-2008 financial crisis, is now warning that the world may be gradually headed towards another Great Depression.

Speaking at an economics conference at the London Business School late last month, Raghuram Rajan, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, claimed that the monetary policies of the leading developed nations could be creating conditions similar to those that led to the Great Depression.

“I do worry that we are slowly slipping into the kind of problems that we had in the thirties in attempts to activate growth,” Rajan said, according to multiple reports.

He added: “And, I think it's a problem for the world. It's not just a problem for the industrial countries or emerging markets, now it's a broader game.”

Rajan, who previously served as the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist, was referring to the efforts by central banks in developed countries to use excessively low interest rates to spur economic growth following the global financial crisis. These policies, commonly referred to as quantitative easing, have been adopted by the central banks of the United States, the European Union and Japan.

QE spurs lending in the domestic economy, which helps to combat high unemployment. It also keeps currencies low, which makes exports more competitive on the global market (and imports more expensive).

QE in developed countries also produces what Rajan and others have called “spillover” effects in less developed countries like India. Specifically, investors flee from developed countries to developing ones in search of higher yields. In the words of The Economist, QE has created “a firehose of money to emerging economies that cannot manage the cash.”

This creates a lot of volatility, and could upend the developing economies especially when QE ends in the developed countries, and investors start pulling out of the developing countries they are currently investing in. It also makes the currencies of those countries not engaged in QE relatively uncompetitive, hurting their exports.

Rajan’s fears this latter action could result in countries taking retaliatory actions to retain their market shares, much as they did during the 1930s. As he warned at the conference last month: "The question is are we now moving into the territory in trying to produce growth out of nowhere we are in fact shifting growth from each other, rather than creating growth. Of course, there is past history of this during the Great Depression when we got into competitive devaluation.”

This is hardly the first time Rajan has raised such concerns. In just one of many examples, last year he wrote an article which warned that “Central banks, in an effort to keep capital away and hold down the exchange rate, risk becoming locked into a cycle of competitive easing aimed at maximizing their countries’ share of scarce existing world demand.”

In both his recent speech and that earlier commentary article, Rajan argued that the International Monetary Fund must create “rules of the game” and help coordinate the different policies. Still, after Rajan’s speech last month received a lot of media attention in India, the Reserve Bank of India tried to walk back his comments.

In a statement released shortly after the speech, RBI said “Governor Rajan did not imply or suggest that there was any risk of the world economy, which is in steady recovery notwithstanding uncertainties like those in the Euro area, slipping into a new Great Depression.”

What he did say, according to the statement, “was that the policies followed by major Central banks around the world were in danger of slipping into the kind of beggar-thy-neighbor strategies that were followed in the 1930s.”

As the governor of RBI, Rajan has an interest in deterring QE in developed countries as India is often the victim of these policies. Still, Rajan was making such warnings long before he assumed his current position.

Moreover, Rajan’s views should be taken seriously because he was one of the few economists who predicted the global financial crisis. When he first warned of the impending global financial crisis in 2005, most of the world’s leading economists dismissed his claims.

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

Image: Flickr/World Bank

TopicsEconomicsGlobal Governance