Why India Really Likes Ashton Carter

The Buzz

After a week of swirling rumors, Ashton Carter, the deputy defense secretary from 2011-2013, has been all-but-announced as President Barack Obama's nominee for secretary of defence.

Although Carter now needs to get confirmed, and will face particularly strong grilling on his views on US strategy in Iraq and Syria, it looks as though his confirmation will be a great deal smoother than Hagel's tortuous process: Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said “he would be a great choice,” and Levin's successor come January, John McCain, has expressed approval.

India will be watching Carter's path through Congress with particular interest. On Wednesday, the Indian news agency IANS headlined its report “India friend Ashton Carter is Obama pick.” The New York Times' South Asia bureau chief called Carter “one of India's favorite US officials,” the defense journalist Ajai Shukla cheered the “superb news,” and others were similarly effusive.

Why all the optimism?

Carter has a longstanding interest in India. In 2006 he wrote a long and nuanced essay in Foreign Affairs on the much-maligned US-India civil nuclear deal, arguing that, though it was unbalanced and problematic, it was worth pursuing for the sake of a “strategic realignment.” Then in 2011 Carter was appointed deputy secretary of defense. Ajai Shukla argued that, in this role, Carter was responsible for “bulldozing the Washington bureaucracy into moderating its hands-off attitude to India,” pushing forward the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTI, a body designed to help smooth the flow of advanced American technology to India), and proposing the unprecedented co-manufacture and even co-development of key weapons systems. Even though India has been steadily buying US arms, there seemed to be something sluggish about US-India ties. Carter looked like a bright spot in those lean years.

In an article for Foreign Policy in November last year, as he came to the end of his tenure, Carter emphasised “DoD's decision to change its mindset regarding technology transfer to India from a culture of ‘presumptive no’ to one of ‘presumptive yes.’” Carter framed this change in the context of the US rebalancing to Asia, but also within Asia – from “existing partnerships in Northeast Asia” to “new bilateral and multilateral collaboration in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”

Two months before he wrote that, Carter had suggested, on a September 2013 visit to India, that Delhi and Washington co-develop the next-generation version of the Javelin anti-tank missile, something that he underscored was “an entirely new proposal intended to reflect the DTI, and it's being offered to no other country but India.” This was a potentially far-reaching proposal, and it seems fair to assume Carter was the animating force behind it. But India stalled, and recently, to Washington's great disappointment, opted for a large purchase of Israeli Spike anti-tank missiles over the existing Javelin.

However, co-development isn't off the table yet. According to Indian press reporting on Monday, India's defense research organisation, DRDO, and the defence ministry have shortlisted five possible areas for cooperation: naval guns, mine scattering anti-tank vehicles, unmanned aerial surveillance system, Javelin missiles, and aircraft landing systems for carriers. Apropos the carriers, the hints have been there: September's Modi-Obama joint statement alluded to “enhancing technology partnerships for India's Navy,” and the plugged-in Ashley Tellis had in September urged “US decisions to partner with New Delhi on developing India's next-generation aircraft carrier.”

As defense secretary, Carter will have a lot more on his plate than India, of course. US strategy against ISIL is in flux (one factor in Hagel's departure), Russia continues its brinksmanship with Europe, and China is challenging the pivot. The Pentagon is also in a bruising budgetary clash with Congress, with so-called sequestration mandating automatic cuts that could mean the US defense budget shrinks by “almost a trillion dollars by 2021.” And, as Carter himself wrote in Foreign Affairs earlier this year, “the Pentagon is ill equipped to address urgent needs that arise during wartime’ – making the procurement system more flexible and adaptive will be a priority.

Carter will also have to overcome serious obstacles in Delhi, including India's longstanding refusal to sign the so-called Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), two agreements that US law deems necessary for certain aspects of technology transfer. For instance, Iskander Rehman recently explained how India's rejection of CISMOA and another protocol, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA), meant that the sophisticated P-8I Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft purchased by India were “delivered without secure and encrypted communications, and satellite navigational aids.”

But with Obama and Modi having established a personal connection, a new Indian defense minister now in place, and other arms suppliers – not least France and Israel – making progress in Delhi, the time is ripe for Carter, from a higher perch, to give a fresh push to the proposals he set in motion last year.

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

Image: Creative Commons. 

TopicsDefense RegionsUnited States

China Is Capable of Launching Cyber Strikes Against US Power Grids

The Buzz

Two weeks ago, Admiral Mike Rogers, head of U.S. Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency, told a congressional panel that China and “one or two” other countries would be capable of mounting a cyberattack that could shut down the power grid or other critical infrastructure. In addition, over the last two years, there have been a number of public reports that China-based hackers broke into industrial control systems (ICS). UglyGorilla, one of the five People’s Liberation Army hackers indicted by the Department of Justice, reportedly hacked into the computers of a public utility in the northeastern United States, perhaps to map the system in preparation for a future attack.

As with previous U.S. claims, the Chinese have fiercely denied that they hack at all, much less into industrial systems. But in one of the denials, there is an interesting insight into Chinese concerns about U.S. capabilities. This article in Chinese points out that these claims have been made before and are part of the “China threat theory,” efforts by Congress, the Defense Department, and others to paint China as a threat to the international order. The novelty and importance of the claim, the article argues, is that Rogers is its source. The article asserts, in a roundabout way, that this is evidence that the United States is capable of hacking into China’s power grid. No one knows what cyber capabilities China possesses, and so if Rogers is worried about someone hacking into U.S. critical infrastructure it is because he knows that Cyber Command can do it to others.

More concrete evidence of this concern is clear in the announcement this week that China is establishing its first laboratory to work on information security for industrial control systems (the story was also covered with the headline, “China’s Industrial Control System Information Security System is Grim“). According to the announcement, over 80 percent of China’s economy and critical infrastructure involve some type of industrial control system. These systems are vulnerable to attack for at least three reasons: operators have low security awareness and ICS are connected to the Internet; Chinese industry is heavily reliant on foreign suppliers for ICS and these suppliers have access in order to service or update software; and the country lacks a testing range or simulation environment to prepare for and defend against attacks. The laboratory is meant to address all of these weaknesses.

This sense of vulnerability could break in one of two ways for stability in the U.S.-China relationship. On one hand, if vulnerability is high and defense is difficult, there are incentives to use cyber attacks quickly before your adversary does. Offense has the advantage, and crises could quickly escalate through cyberattacks. On the other hand, a mutual sense of vulnerability may help create deterrence. You do not dare launch a cyberattack because you know the same could happen to you.

It would be good to know which the Chinese think is more likely, and to discuss how we might dampen the potential instability in the relationship through greater transparency and discussions of thresholds of attacks. As Rogers told the panel, “We need to define what would be offensive, what’s an act of war.” Unfortunately, the two sides are not talking right now (the Chinese suspended the cyber working group after the Department of Justice indictment), which means, to parrot the Chinese article, the ICS information security situation will continue to be grim.

This piece first appeared on CFR’s blog Net Politics.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Hong Kong's Real Problem: Massive Inequality

The Buzz

Old Lum's price is HK$220 (US$28). His service is washing cars in the parking lots of Kowloon Tong, where his regular customers, Hong Kong's old-money types, live and work. To see him in action is to witness life in one of the world's most unequal cities.

Mr Lum (a pseudonym) is in his 70s. He's not sure exactly how old because his personal records, and those of most of his family, were lost in the war years of his childhood. He's had a troubled adult life too. A delicate inquiry suggests he is illiterate. What can also be inferred from his appearance is that he is not well. During summer he works shirtless, so you can see his body has that skinny-tubby look that some old folks have, thin limbs and a swollen belly. His complexion hints at liver problems.

He gets free medical care, the one public service that is reliably good in Hong Kong, but has never asked for welfare. He takes pride in self-reliance and considers himself a businessmen rather than a charity case. His franchise is a customer base of a dozen or so rich families, relationships built over 30-years. In accounting terms, the only tangible assets of his business are a plastic bucket, a bottle of detergent and a deerskin cloth. Rags can be obtained for nothing. In some locations he can also make free use of a hose.

His routine is well practiced, deliberate and slow. He soaps the car all over and then washes it off, section by section. He takes particular care to clean each spoke of the wheels. It's tough for him to get down on his knees, but there he is, down at ground level. He patiently dries the car off with the chamois and lastly the windows. The whole operation takes about half an hour. It's awkward to watch.

He must take special care with all of his charges. Some garages in Hong Kong wouldn't look out of place in Monaco. The territory levies a 200-300% tax on luxury vehicles, but consumers aren't deterred; they buy them anyway. It's quite common to see limousines priced over HK$2 million and sports cars twice that. Mr Lum washes exotic models that you've probably never even heard of, worth HK$10 million or more. Some of his clients own several.

He has tried to raise his price a few times, to HK$250 or even HK$300. But his customers, those who drive the Paganis and the Maybachs, drive hard bargains too. They're business people with factories in China and office towers in Hong Kong, and tough negotiating is instinctive for them. Fair enough, you may be thinking. But Mr Lum's rate of HK$220 is per month. He will wash your car six days a week each month for that much.

If he works 10 hours per day, he can do 20 cars maximum. So at most he can make about HK$4000 per month, or about US$500. He lives far away from this neighborhood, in conditions unknown, but you can guess they won't be comfortable. At best he may be provided rent-free public housing. He might even live in one of Hong Kong's notorious birdcage shared apartments. He works all year with no holidays, six days per week.

He takes every Sunday off. On this day he offers his time for volunteer work, to help the needy.

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

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsHong Kong RegionsChina

Japan's Shinzo Abe Tries to End World War II

The Buzz

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will do “whatever it takes” to sign a formal peace treaty with Russia ending their outstanding territorial dispute, according to state-run Russian media outlets.

According to the reports, which cited Japan’s Kyodo News Agency, Abe pledged in a speech on Monday to redouble his efforts to resolve Japan’s long-standing territorial dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands (Northern Territories).

“I shall resolve the problem of [the] Northern Territories and conclude a peace treaty," Abe was quoted as saying in a speech with a local mayor. He added, “As a politician and prime minister, I will achieve it whatever it takes [sic]."

Russia and Japan have long disputed the four islands in the southern Pacific. Indeed, the two countries technically remain at war as the territorial dispute prevented them from ever inking a formal treaty ending their WWII hostilities.

Early on in his current term as premier, Abe launched a charm offensive towards Russian President Vladimir Putin that was aimed at finally resolving the dispute. The outreach saw early results as Abe made a historic visit to Russia in April 2013, which was the first time a sitting Japanese prime minister had visited the Kremlin in over a decade. During the trip, Abe and Putin directed their top diplomats to redouble efforts to resolve the dispute in a timely fashion.

This positive momentum was derailed, however, by the rising tensions between the United States and Russia over events in the Ukraine. Despite his interest in improving ties with Russia as a way to balance against China, Abe ultimately adopted sanctions against Russia over Crimea in order to maintain solidarity with the United States and other Western powers. He also rescinded an invitation for Putin to visit Tokyo in the fall of this year.

In response, Russia held military drills on the disputed islands in August of this year. The following month Moscow announced plans to spend $1.25 billion over the next decade to further develop the islands.

Abe’s comments on Monday may signal his intention to resume his earlier outreach efforts towards Moscow.

On the other hand, it is just as likely that Abe’s speech was motivated by domestic politics. Abe made the comments while meeting with Shunsuke Hasegawa, the mayor of Nemuro of Hokkaido Prefecture, which is located right near the Kuril Islands. The territorial dispute with Russia is an important local political issue as many Hokkaido residents used to live on the Kuril Islands before being forced into exile by Russia.

For what it’s worth, Russia appears to be interpreting Abe’s comments as a domestic political ploy. A ITAR-TASS report on Tuesday said that most “experts” believe that, “Japanese Minister Shinzo Abe's declared intention to conclude a peace treaty with Russia after resolving the territorial dispute is first and foremost addressed to the domestic audience on the eve of elections.... Some interpret this pledge as an attempt to put pressure on Moscow."

Zachary Keck is the managing editor of The National Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Office of the Prime Minister - Japan. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsJapan

The Sources of Public Disengagement From International Engagement

Paul Pillar

Kurt Campbell, who was assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs until last year, had an interesting op ed the other day that relates the growing inequality of income within the United States to a lowering of the international standing of the United States and of its ability to sustain international engagement abroad. Partly the connection involves a depletion of U.S. soft power. Much of that power has rested on the image of a durable American middle class, which has long been attractive to millions in stratified societies overseas but in more recent times has been tarnished as that middle class has suffered from stagnant or declining income while watching the one percent fly ever higher and farther away. Another part of the connection, writes Campbell, is that “as a growing segment of the population strains just to get by, it will increasingly view foreign a kind of luxury ripe for cuts and a reduction in ambition.”

For the American public, lack of active support for an active foreign policy is not only a matter of competition for scarce resources. It also involves a sense of empowerment, or a lack thereof. The public will care less and be less informed about foreign policy to the extent that it does not believe it has a say that really matters in determining that policy. A sense of empowerment can be very effective in getting people active and engaged. That is a large part of what was going on in Tahrir Square in Cairo over three years ago. Ordinary citizens not only protested but cleaned up the trash because for the first time—albeit only temporarily, as it turned out—they had reason to believe that what they were saying had a real effect on setting the direction of Egypt.

Michael J. Glennon, writing in The National Interest, does raise the problem of a missing sense of empowerment and correctly relates it to a broader detachment of most of the American public from foreign policy, as reflected among other things in the woeful public ignorance about foreign affairs. Glennon badly errs, however, in blaming the whole situation on a supposedly unaccountable national security state—which he calls the “Trumanite network,” named after the era when most of the apparatuses Glennon doesn't like assumed their present form. He distinguishes this from the “Madisonian” system that includes the familiar constitutional institutions of an elected legislature and chief executive. Glennon declares that the entire Madisonian system has lost so much power to the Trumanite network that he likens it to the monarch and House of Lords in Britain having lost power to the cabinet, prime minister, and House of Commons.

This description bears very little resemblance to what anyone who has worked at the interface of these parts of the U.S. political and policy-making system would recognize. Even those who have not worked there can reflect on where the impetus for the most important developments related to U.S. national security policy have come from. Presumably the Trumanite network wasn't much in favor, for example, of government shutdowns that have been the work of extortionists in the legislative part of the Madisonian system. Nor would the military and security agencies have favored sequestration budget cuts, which were legislative efforts to avoid more damage from the same extortionists. Or think about the single biggest U.S. foreign policy initiative of at least the last couple of decades: the Iraq War. It was the work of a willful group that had captured enough of the Madisonian system to embark on their project despite the better judgment of much of what is the Trumanite national security apparatus.

Part of the problem with Glennon's analysis is that he throws a big assortment of otherwise unrelated incidents and policies together, the only common thread of which is that they somehow each involve some part of the military, intelligence, or security bureaucracies (and that Glennon doesn't happen to like them). There is no sense of the very different issues involved in, say, a procedural altercation between an intelligence agency and an oversight committee in the course of performing oversight, and indefinite detention of militants that the military has scraped up on some distant battlefield. Nor is there much attention to the specific ways in which the Trumanites really are accountable to political people in the Madisonian system. One would never have guessed from the article, for example, that major changes occurred four decades ago that brought not only intelligence activities but the entire covert action arena under legislative oversight and political control that were previously deficient. Also missing is how much of what Glennon (and many others today) consider to be excessive or abusive was firmly rooted in earlier, mostly in the immediate post-9/11 period, attitudes and priorities broadly shared by the American people and their political leaders. The priorities did not originate with national security agencies and departments, which instead have tried to implement the missions they have been assigned by the people and political leaders. If you or Glennon or I disagree with the position that majorities on Congressional oversight committees have taken at times over the past few years on issues such as interrogation techniques or bulk collection of telephonic data, that's politics; it is not a usurpation of politics by the agencies being overseen.

At times Glennon describes the Trumanite network as so broad that one starts to lose any sense of where the lines that distinguish it from the Madisonian system lie. He pitches his argument initially as if it were about part of the federal bureaucracy but then criticizes postures that lie far beyond that bureaucracy. He quotes, for example, Madeleine Albright's question to Colin Powell about what the point is of having a superb military if we can't use it, and identifies the attitude expressed in the question with the Trumanites. But it was Powell, the career military officer, who presumably was the party in this conversation who was more on the Trumanite side of Glennon's Trumanite/Madisonian line. Glennon is critical—and has good reason to be critical—of people who “define security primarily in military terms and tend to consider military options before political, diplomatic or law-enforcement alternatives,” but that attitude is not centered in the national security bureaucracy. The attitude is promoted mainly by neoconservatives, with a major assist from liberal interventionists, who seek and often get support for their positions within the Madisonian system.

As far as military interventions are concerned, it certainly is true that the professional military tends to prefer more resources and bigger forces to accomplish decisively whatever mission is assigned to it—that's part of the Powell Doctrine. But it does not have the sort of preference Glennon asserts when it comes to getting assigned such a mission in the first place. That's another part of the Powell Doctrine: take military action only if it has clear support from the American people. And it's not just Powell. Military members and veterans of the military are less inclined to support U.S. military interventions than are civilians who never served in the military. Chicken hawks—and many people of similar ilk who not only favor starting wars but also insist that counterterrorism is a “war,” with all of the implications that are supposed to flow from that label regarding matters such as handling of detainees—are not part of any network centered in the national security bureaucracy.

What chicken hawks have been able to do brings us back to the issue of empowerment and how an unempowered public may tune out foreign policy. There is indeed a problem here, but it is not a problem because some shadowy deep state, an American version of an Algerian pouvoir or an Arab mukhabarat, has managed to make U.S. political institutions as feeble as a modern British monarch. It is a problem because such developments as extreme partisan tactics, perfected gerrymandering, and unrestricted campaign bankrolling have made those political institutions less responsive than they could or should be, on foreign as well as domestic policy.

Regarding that offensive war begun in Iraq, for example, consider the situation of an American voter in 2000 who didn't much care for Al Gore and the Democrats but also had no desire for the United States to get involved in anything like the Iraq War. That voter would have had no basis for predicting—even if he could have predicted something like the 9/11 terrorist attack—that a vote for George W. Bush would become a vote for such a war. The Madisonian system was captured not by a Trumanite network but by a neocon cabal. Tom Friedman, sitting in Washington shortly after the beginning of the war, observed without exaggeration, “I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom are at this moment within a five-block radius of this office) who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq War would not have happened.”

There also is the matter, of course, of Gore having won the popular vote in 2000. Twelve years later, Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives won 1.37 million more votes than Republican candidates, but the Democrats won only 201 seats compared to the Republicans' 234. And every two years, voters in only a very small percentage of districts nationwide are given a genuinely competitive choice of candidates for what is supposed to be the people's House.

The Arab Spring erupted largely because many people in the countries concerned felt they had no stake in either an economic system that passed them by or a political system in which they effectively had little or no voice in the direction of their country. Many Americans are facing something similar with a pattern of economic growth that leaves them behind and an often dysfunctional political system that gives them little sense of having a role in setting policy. Americans are not likely to stage their own Tahrir Square. But it is unsurprising if they become increasingly disengaged from foreign policy and if, as Campbell anticipates, this becomes a source of weakness for the United States internationally.   

TopicsPublic Opinion RegionsUnited States