Saturday 25 January 2020

Time to choose sides in Indo-Pacific Cold War (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

It’s imperative for India to choose either US or Chinese side in matters military.

The Atlantic Alliance became the cornerstone of US foreign policy since 1945, with the consequence that Russia (then the USSR) once again displaced Germany as the prime threat. As a consequence, numerous technology control regimes began to get operational in the US and its allies, focused on denying dual-use technologies to Moscow and its satellites long after Moscow had ceased to be a superpower capital. The December 2018 incarceration in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei boss Ren, indicated that China is finally accepted as having displaced Russia as the primary challenge to US global primacy in technology. Since then, US-led technology denial measures focused on China are increasingly snapping into place. Given the potential of 5G to suck up data through integration into activities related to a variety of human functions, it will not be a surprise if Washington decides within a year to block access to essential inputs to Huawei, in an effort to ensure that the conglomerate goes the way of Japan’s NEC and fades as a global competitor. As a consequence of US sanctions, even Vietnam has carved out its own path in 5G, as have Taiwan and South Korea, while India still relies on foreign systems. The standard assumption of the Indian bureaucracy while deciding policy is that “ceteris paribus” (other things remaining the same) will hold into the future, although in the field of technology, this will no longer be the case. India will need to choose between two rival universes of tech systems rather than be reliant on products from both sides. Given the rising level of disconnect between the US-led tech world and Sino-Russian tech, enterprises such as Taiwan Semiconducter Manufacturing Company (TSMC) will not much longer be able to source technology from the US while mostly selling its production to China. TSMC will need to find new markets and production centres to replace those in China, and in such a situation, India could emerge as an attractive destination provided both the Lutyens policy matrix as well as efficiency in implementation meet 21st century standards. In the matter of 5G, four of the Five Eyes (the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) have already blocked Huawei from advanced telecom infrastructure, thus far the only holdout being the UK, which is in danger of losing its position as one of the Five Eyes unless Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks away from the Conservative government’s earlier welcome to Huawei in the matter of 5G. Just as the expected  decision by the US to majorly sanction Turkey under CAATSA for installing Russian S-400 systems will have a decisive impact on whether India goes ahead with installing S-400 systems, the final decision by the UK on whether or not to include Huawei in its 5G basket is likely to influence decision-makers in the Narendra Modi government. The government is after all working at fashioning a close strategic fit between Delhi and Washington and will be wary of creating severe barriers to such a partnership, especially in technology and defence. Accepting for induction China’s Huawei 5G and Russia’s S-400 systems would in effect result in India’s longstanding policy of the Lutyens version of non-alignment continuing into the indefinite future. The reason for this is that detailed and sensitive adoption of US-linked hi-tech systems will be out of the question once such (admittedly advanced) Sino-Russian technologies become commonplace in India, the way Russian military technologies have been since the 1960s. Indeed, overwhelming reliance on Russia (then the USSR) was a prime factor behind India becoming a leading target of US tech sanctions that began to be scaled back only several decades after they were first introduced, a process begun by George W. Bush and continued by Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Given the increasing contradictions between the geopolitical ambitions of the Sino-Russian alliance and the longstanding (but now shaky) primacy of the US, India and its neighbourhood will be a major theatre of such rivalry. In particular, both China as well as the US are likely to focus much more than in the past on Sri Lanka and the Maldives, both of which occupy pole position within the Indian Ocean segment of the broader Indo-Pacific. While there has been considerable attention paid to the multiple links between the Rajapaksa family in Sri Lanka and high officials of the Chinese Communist Party, what has not received much attention is the rising curve of contacts between the US Marine Corps and Sri Lanka. Indeed, the strategically situated island is on the way to become an important port of call for US Navy vessels transiting between East and Southeast Asia and the Middle East and Africa. While going it alone may be the declared preference of policymakers in the Lutyens Zone, the realities of relative capabilities make it imperative for India to choose either the US or the Chinese side in matters military. The choice of defence and security partner will also impact sensitive supply chain decisions, a matter that has long been ignored by policymakers still in thrall to the Nehruvian tradition of non-alignment. This is the policy that the Sino-Russian alliance has been urging India to remain committed to, while the US-led alliance has been urging its reversal. It would make sense for India to go ahead with, for example, the setting up of an “Over the Horizon” (OTH) radar system located in the Andaman Islands, perhaps in the manner of Australia, which already has such a system functioning from its territory. Japan too has technology that would be of immense value to all three powers in protecting the sanctity of sea lanes throughout the Indo-Pacific, a geopolitical construct that places India at a potential advantage but which is anathema to the Sino-Russian alliance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to ensure greater synergy between India’s private and public sectors in matters of national defence. Such moves need to factor in the importance of care in choosing technologies that ensure the country’s safety from hostile action. As in the past, this is a world where once again, two separate technological pathways are emerging and competing. The Atlanticist Cold War was between Washington and Moscow, while the Indo-Pacific Cold War is between the US and China. The two sides offer alternative buffets for other powers at the security table, and to continue to follow the a la carte option would be to forgo the many options available at the buffet table. In economic and commercial matters it is still possible to be “non-aligned”, but in matters of technology and defence, such an option is no longer viable. In the Soviet era, “non-alignment” in effect meant alignment with the USSR, just as modern day “non-alignment” will mean the adoption in effect of a policy course that would block any in-depth techno-security partnership with the US and thereby suit the strategic interests of the Sino-Russian global alliance. Both Russia and China wish to see the “non-alignment” of the Atlanticist Cold War period continue to be followed by India even after the start of the Indo-Pacific Cold War.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Trump impeachment designed to protect Hillary Clinton (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The Clinton machine within the Democratic Party has converted the grassroots drive to impeach President Trump into ‘safe’ channels designed to serve the interests of the most powerful political family in the US.

NEW DELHI: Acting on the advice given by close New York-based friends with connections to Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Donald J. Trump decided to abandon a move to investigate the flood of contributions received by the Clinton Foundation during the period when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Forensic tracking of the actual sources of much of the funds received would have established their provenance. Much of the money came (through cut-outs) from East Asia and the Middle East, funnelled into the foundation by those with a direct interest in the foreign policy of the United States Government (USG). The link between access to power and moneys received is clear from the fact that the flow of funds dropped once Hillary Clinton stepped down as Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, and has become a mere trickle now that Donald J. Trump is President of the US. However, should a Clinton nominee such as former Vice-President Joe Biden get elected as the 46th President of the US in November, the Clinton Foundation will once again move to the top of the fundraising sweepstakes. Those familiar with developments in the US, but wary of the immense reach of the Clinton hyper-power couple within not merely the Democratic Party but the Republican Party establishment, have given details in confidence about the manner in which the Clinton machine within the Democratic Party has converted the grassroots drive to impeach President Trump into “safe” channels designed to serve the interests of what is still the most powerful political family in the US. It is clear that the Ukraine imbroglio is not catching fire in a way that was expected of an attempt as serious as a move to remove a sitting US President. Indeed, there are other grounds that may have found justification within the substantial number of “Never Trumpers” i.e., those who rue every day that Donald Trump remains the US President, including several within the USG who have been put off by Trump’s self-serving and hectoring manner in dealing with issues such as the removal of as outstanding a civil servant as the former envoy to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich, or in stopping the pension of Andrew McCabe, the former Deputy Director of the FBI. Such acts of personal spite and vindictiveness have bred an atmosphere inside the Trump administration that resembles that of a medieval court, with priorities one through nine (out of 10) of each high level official being the daily struggle to keep Trump happy.
The fact is that Hunter Biden did get princely sums of money from entities in the very countries that his father (Vice-President Joe Biden) was personally handling on behalf of President Obama. Or that his qualifications for such lucrative posts was non-existent, as seems to have been the case with whatever he was (as distinct from his VVIP father) doing for the companies which paid him immense sums of money. Given the fact that Joe Biden is the preferred choice of Bill and Hillary Clinton to be the next US President, skilful networking has ensured that the activities of Hunter Biden in the foreign companies with which he was associated have not been seriously probed even by Trump-friendly news outlets. Strangely, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (a strong backer of President Erdogan of Turkey) seems disinclined to seriously pursue the option of bringing Hunter Biden to testify about his activities before a Senate panel at a time when the Clinton machine saw to it that the younger son of the former Vice-President was kept far away from giving testimony on the floor of the US House of Representatives. The Senate Majority Leader justifies this lack of interest in Hunter Biden as part of an overall policy of dispensing with witnesses altogether as the Senate considers and decides on the Articles of Impeachment handed over to them by the House of Representatives. Such a proceeding would not just be a farcical eyewash, but be shown before voters as being an eyewash, thereby damaging President Trump’s chances of re-election for a fresh four-year term, an essentiality if he and some of his family members are to avoid being prosecuted for a roster of complaints that have been prepared by Democratic Party veterans. Rather than a Clinton-friendly candidate, should a truly independent individual (such as Senators Warren or Sanders) emerge as the Democratic Party nominee in July, and should that candidate go on to defeat Trump, that would not only be bad news for the Trumps but also for the Clintons, for while the Clinton Foundation (and Hunter Biden) would be in clover during a Biden Presidency, a Sanders or a Warren White House would look askance at the many money-making schemes of the Clintons, a level of cupidity that has thus far escaped serious legal and political consequences thanks to the network of the former  Empress of the Beltway, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who still retains substantial influence in the world’s most consequential capital. Indeed, a weakened and vulnerable Donald J. Trump would be preferred by the Clintons to a Warren or a Sanders as the next US President.
Given that the lucrative jobs given to Hunter Biden (apparently for no just cause) were during the time when his father as Vice-President was directly involved with high policy regarding the countries in which the job-giving enterprises were located, there is an arguable case of corruption. Of course, what is questionable is the withholding of assistance to Ukraine after the government there had been directed by Rudy Giuliani to investigate Hunter Biden and to do so publicly but had yet to obey. Seeking to frame any request to a foreign government by the USG to investigate possible wrongdoing by a US citizen as an impeachable offence seems designed to ensure that there will not be any future enquiry via foreign governments into the money flow into the Clinton Foundation during the period when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. In other words, among the grounds for impeachment is the implicit premise that using a foreign government to investigate a US citizen who is in politics is a misdemeanour. As pointed out by Beltway insiders, not only do the terms of the items of impeachment of the Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives do Joe Biden a huge favour by casting him as the biggest electoral danger to President Trump, they seek to foreclose any future enquiry by the USG against any politician through the use of a foreign government. This when a foreign government is in several situations the only way in which such an enquiry can succeed in finding out the truth. The flimsy nature of the terms of impeachment where public opinion is concerned ensure a less than blockbuster viewership for the Senate proceedings, unless of course during those moments when Hunter Biden or John Bolton (or both) are allowed to testify. The Clinton machine saw to it that the articles of impeachment drawn up by the House committee focused on the Ukraine saga and nothing other than the Ukraine saga. This when there are other actions of President Trump that are likely to have a grave impact on US security in the years ahead.
Rather than destroy ISIS the way he has been claiming, President Trump has opened a pathway for the terror organisation to regroup. He has done this by abandoning the Kurdish allies of the US military in 2019 and months afterwards, in causing public opinion within the Shia majority in Iraq to turn toxic against US forces in that country by assassinating the commander of the Iraqi Shia militia that has done the most to rid the country of ISIS together with Qassem Soleimani, the killing of whom has almost certainly ensured that Iran will follow the Pakistan and North Korea example in nuclear proliferation, rather than that of Libya and Ukraine. The raising of the red flag atop the Jamkaran Mosque in Qom indicates that the IRGC has entered upon a campaign designed to remove US forces from the Middle East, no matter what the cost in Iranian or other blood. After the treachery shown to the Kurds (who were asked to leave fortified positions soon afterwards occupied by Turkish troops intent on their destruction), it would have to be a very credulous Middle Eastern potentate who has confidence in US pledges. Just as the killing of Gaddafi terminally affected any chances for the voluntary handing over of WMD to the US and its allies by any other power, the killing of Soleimani means that any country hosting US bases will be the direct target of the IRGC, both in conventional as well as in asymmetric terms should the US use such bases to launch attacks on Iran. By his embrace of Erdogan and apparently his interests and values in the Middle East, and by initiating the start of a risky, inevitable and escalatory cycle of violence with Iran, President Trump has placed the interests of the US in far greater jeopardy than by “asking a favour” of the Ukrainians in the matter of the Biden investigation. However, the Kurds count for even less in the minds of US voters than the Ukrainians do, while the effects of the Soleimani strike will become visible only over the coming three years, or well after the 2020 polls. Fortunately for Trump, the choice of the Ukraine saga as the only platform for impeachment is likely to make him seem a victim rather than a perpetrator, and ensure his re-election, especially if his opponent is Joe Biden. After ensuring the victory of Donald J. Trump in 2016, the Clinton machine seems on course to enabling his re-election in 2020. Unless (a) the US economy slows down substantially by the autumn of 2020 and (b) either Warren or Sanders rather than Biden is the Democratic Party challenger to Trump.

Double citizenship the way forward for CAA (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The persecuted may be given Indian passports, retaining their original nationality.

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has long shown that he is a leader unafraid to attempt deep-rooted rather than superficial changes in policy. The problem he is facing is that the implementing machinery for his bold ideas is much the same rusty, creaky, leaky construct that has held back progress in India during each of the decades that our (severely truncated in 1947) country has been independent. In 2016, both North Block as well as Mint Road made the country an international laughing stock by the manner in which they messed up working out the details of Prime Minister Modi’s move to replace Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes with Rs 2,000 notes and new Rs 500 notes. Confidence in the Reserve Bank of India in particular and the banking system generally fell to levels never seen before in this country, and the daily diet of often contradictory regulatory tweaks did not help either financial stability or institutional credibility. Thanks to such missteps, the entire small sector and much of the medium sector (not to mention the farming community) was deprived of liquidity in a destructive fashion, with the consequence that the annual rate of growth has almost halved since 2016, rather than doubled as was expected in an economy led by Narendra Modi. Next came GST, and here the babus who worked out the details of the PM’s necessary idea jacked up rates to unbearable levels in the name of taxing luxury consumption. Having never run a business in their lives, and having spent almost all their adult lives having a retinue of underlings the exchequer paid for, the bureaucrats involved in DeMo lost sight of the fact that “luxury” goods create employment as much as other products do. Sticking to UPA-era policies and regulations which criminalise the wealthy was certain to cause a slowdown in output and investment, and a consequent fall in employment and therefore in consumer demand. All this has happened, and unless the budget that will be presented next week departs radically from the Sonia-Chidambaram model that successive budgets have followed even after the 2014 victory of the BJP, it is unlikely that India will come anywhere near double digit growth during Modi 2.0. There ought to have been at most two rates for GST and these much lower than the present growth-limiting rates of what ought to have been a transformative reform rather than a blight, especially on the service sector. As designed by North Block, GST made compliance a nightmare. Policy designed by, of and for the babus is not what India needs or what supporters of Prime Minister Modi expect.
In defiance of reality, some supporters are doing no favours to the central government by disseminating their own version of what in the Soviet Union of the 1930s was termed “socialist realism”. What this meant was that those who were starving claimed in public that they were plentifully fed. Those who lacked employment said to the world that they were at work every day. In other words, that life was perfect. A disconnect with reality shadows the incessant message that gets blared out by some who believe that by doing so they support the government, but who in reality damages its credibility. Theirs is an effort to ignore the need for changes that will strip away the power and profit that the existing system has given to a few over the decades. At a time when India is becoming younger and more educated, what the Prime Minister needs to do is to rely on the people, and empower them through forcing the immense mass of bureaucracy riding on their backs to jump off. This is a difficult task, even for an administrator as able as Modi, but it must be completed within the term of Modi 2.0. Part of the transformation would be the assigning of policy priorities, as for example to liquidity in the case of demonetization, and ease of compliance in the filing of GST. Had this columnist had his way, the next major step of the Modi government would not have been the CAA but the introduction of a Uniform Civil Code, which would have been welcomed by the 95% of Muslims who are as modern and moderate as 95% of the Hindus are, leaving aside the fanatic fringe in both communities. Steps by the Home Ministry such as treating as terrorists those who kill using the excuse of cow protection would create an atmosphere that would make possible the amicable resolution of not just the Ram Janmabhumi but the Krishna Janmasthan and the Gyan Vapi restoration at Varanasi as well. They need to return to what the three Hindu holy sites were during the time of Emperors Jehangir and Shah Jehan. The pain felt by Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to minority community victims of persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan speaks for their solicitude. However, going ahead with the CAA in a country already bursting with over-population may not generate the public support that some BJP leaders expected. Lack of a communications strategy has resulted in the CAA being misconstrued and misinterpreted in a manner that is injurious to social harmony. An atmosphere made toxic will reduce the outlook for a smooth transition to a Uniform Civil Code and the restoration of the three holy sites of the Hindus to what they were before India endured the Aurangzeb era, the excesses of which ended the Mughal Empire. More than the CAA, it is these two measures that needed to be at the top of the list of government priorities, besides an overhaul of economic management to remove obstacles to growth.
Rather than do the fanatics in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan a favour by opening for them the door to a forced mass migration of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians from those countries to India, what should be done is to introduce Double Citizenship, something that ought to have been done in India in 1947 itself. Victims of persecution could be given an Indian passport while retaining their original nationality, as could others from countries (such as the US and the UK) with substantial populations of Indian origin. Ultimately, CAA-enabled individuals should be assisted to return to their own lands with honour and in safety, with dual citizenship serving as an insurance against fresh repression. Those Muslims who are victims of religious persecution should also be granted the same privilege. After all, Sanatan Dharma regards all faiths as leading to the same divinity. The priority facing the people is the economy, followed by the removal of the historical injustice perpetrated by the tyrant Aurangzeb. Refusal by successive regimes to rectify that injustice is leading to a Hindu community where less than a fraction of 1% were fanatic now having 5% of them as fanatics and counting. Bringing back the three holy sites of the Hindus to their pre-Aurangzeb traditions will ensure that the 5% gets reduced to 0.5% once again, while the smooth rollout of the Uniform Civil Code will weaken the 5% of fanatics among the Muslims who have been given a second wind and a chance to increase their number thanks to the misconceptions being spread about the CAA. Before the storm created by the CAA, the abolition of Triple Talaq and the removal of Article 370 had created a movement for reclaiming Islam in India from the fringe, a necessary step for India’s future as a global superpower. It is time for Prime Minister Modi to free the economy from corrupt babus and introduce dual citizenship (including to religiously persecuted Muslims) as the way towards defusing the efforts of fringe groups to bring back the toxic communal atmosphere last seen during 1936-47.

Sunday 12 January 2020

Iran and the Geopolitics of West Asia (GIR Manipal)

Special Lecture by Prof. M. D. Nalapat during the workshop on "Elements of Academic Writing: Emerging Trends and Probable Themes for Research in Geopolitics, Defence Studies and International Relations" held during 6-9 January 2020, organized by the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal.

Saturday 11 January 2020

Soleimani must be smiling at Trump (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

There is a certain inevitability in the chain reaction caused by Soleimani’s killing.

President Donald J. Trump has based his policy towards Iran on the postulate that an economic strangulation of the country would lead to bloodshed on the streets and a Ceausescu-style meltdown of the clerical regime that has enjoyed full power in Teheran since the fall of President Abolhassan Bani Sadr in 1981. And that sanctions-created economic hardship would lead to the clerical regime following the example of Libya in 2003 of voluntarily giving up its stocks of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), thereby providing the window needed to force through regime change through military means, as took place in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. And that Iran would greet the killing of Commander Soleimani with only a verbal rather than military response. Visitors to Washington will immediately sense the bubble within which strategic thinking takes place in that most consequential of world capitals. The hangover of Churchillian thought, with its suggestion of invincibility for those powers whose ethnic composition is mostly composed of those of European origin, shrouds attempts at analysing real life situations, leading to miscalculations such as President George W. Bush’s appointing a US citizen of European origin (Paul Bremer) as the “Administrator of Iraq” and another individual of Iraqi ethnicity who for all practical purposes thinks, acts and speaks as (other) Americans do as his “Advisor”. The assassination of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani last week was the equivalent of a declaration of war against the clerical regime in Teheran, and there is a certain inevitability in the chain reaction caused by that killing. This action will end either in regime change in Iran or the withdrawal of US combat forces from the Middle East. President Trump has in the past shown a form of brilliance in his climb to the top. However, the fact that he lacks practical field experience outside the boundaries of the continental United States may influence his thinking on strategic issues. The Republican Party appears to have embraced a policy of looking at the European ethnic groups as being at the apex of human endeavour. This may have led to an underestimation of the fact that the pain threshold for the US administration in terms of body bags and asymmetric warfare is much below that which is bearable for the clerical regime in Iran, which has remained stable despite the enormous human and material cost that the Islamic Republic of Iran has endured since the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Last week’s hail of missiles from Iran to two military bases in Iraq showed that the taking out of at least 5,000 US service personnel in the Middle East in a single night is well within the capability of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arsenal.
Should the US unleash a military storm on Iran in the shape of retaliatory missiles and air strikes, the IRGC has the means to ensure significant destruction in countries within the Middle East that are hosting US troops. Such an escalation would lead to a meltdown of the global economy that would overshadow the impact of the 2008 financial crash, a crash which would affect the US and Europe substantially, if not as much as the regional Gulf Cooperation Council powers themselves and countries in Asia heavily linked to them economically, such as India, China, Japan and South Korea. It is not clear whether such potential outcomes of kinetic US action against Iran were taken into consideration while the NSC suggested to President Trump the option of taking out the Quds Force Commander. For by doing so the US administration has unwittingly engineered a change in the leadership of the Quds Force that is harmful rather than helpful to stated US objectives in the region. Commander Soleimani had made the elimination of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other Wahhabi armed extremist groups his top priority, His successor Esmail Qaani is known to hold the view that Al Qaeda, ISIS and other armed manifestations of Wahhabi extremism are parasites riding on the back of Israel, the US and the UK and will automatically perish once US forces are eliminated from the Middle East. Rather than reduce efforts directed against the presence of US forces in the Middle East, the new Quds Force Commander is likely to intensify moves designed to so raise the cost of hosting US forces by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE that they ensure that US bases within their jurisdictions close down. The crisis created by the admittedly courageous decision of President Trump to end the life of both the Quds Force commander as well as the chief of the most effective anti-ISIS force in Iraq (Kitaib Hezbollah) has led to Teheran warning Riyadh, Doha, Manama and Dubai that their territory will be pounded in case bases within them launch US attacks on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The less than welcoming response even of Saudi Arabia to suggestions expressed on Twitter by Trump that he would order US forces to initiate an all-out offensive against Iran shows that realisation that the clerical regime in Teheran is ready to meet punishment with punishment rather than surrender has sunk home. As already mentioned, the level of punishment that the regime in Iran can absorb is far above that which could be endured by either the NATO allies or their GCC supporters. Given the accretion of trouble that a newly awakened Iranian sense of resistance is likely to cause for US forces in the Middle East, it is doubtful that any NATO power (with the possible exceptions of Turkey and the ever loyal UK) will accept the invitation of President Trump to share the risks that he seems willing to subject US service personnel to in the Middle East. Agreeing to the JCPOA (nuclear deal) was in fact a concession by Iran that held the potential for the eventual ending of the primacy of the clerical regime and its replacement with a political construct of the kind created in 1980 by President Bani Sadr but successfully overturned by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who used the invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein as the excuse to entrench the clerical regime in Teheran as the only power centre in the country. President Trump either did not appreciate the concealed clerical regime change aspect of the JCPOA, or believed that less subtle means would lead to clerical regime change at a faster pace in Iran. Judging by the results of the moves initiated by him, it does not seem likely that Trump was right in such an assumption.
For those within the region who believed that it was in their interest to entice and bait President Trump into going to war against Iran, it must be disappointing to see the manner in which he declared a tactical defeat (the launch of Iranian missiles directly at US bases without a response) as a strategic victory. Trump is clearly better aware (post the Iran missile strike) of the consequences of kinetic action against Iran than when he took out Soleimani. This move has led to a situation where US forces will be subjected to a slow but relentless campaign by allies of Iran and by Teheran itself to withdraw from their bases in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar and the UAE. Commander Soleimani must be smiling from wherever he is at the moment.

Friday 10 January 2020

China and India's National Security (GIR Manipal)

Lecture by Prof. M. D. Nalapat at the panel on "Regional Security Issues with a Focus on India’s National Security Challenges" during the workshop on "Elements of Academic Writing: Emerging Trends and Probable Themes for Research in Geopolitics, Defence Studies and International Relations" held during 6-9 January 2020, organized by the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal.

Saturday 4 January 2020

The bill for property loss must be paid (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Proportionate financial punishment must be carried out in cases of loss of property.

Whether because the colonial structure of governance was retained almost in its entirety after 15 August 1947 or that the Mahatma’s pre-1947 exhortations in civil disobedience have entered into the very marrow of the thought processes of citizens of the Republic of India, there is still a disconnect between public property and the public where much of the population is concerned. Hence the lack of care that is shown to public property, despite it—technically at least—belonging to the people. It is undeniable that the relative few who man the higher rungs of the governance machinery enjoy privileges involving public property that the overwhelming majority of citizens lack. One has only to look at the extra privileges given to VIPs and VVIPs in public (and often private) transport and services, or the speedy takeover post-Independence of luxurious official bungalows in various cities. The luxury bungalows in the capital’s Lutyens Zone need to be auctioned off and their ministerial and official residents shifted to apartment blocks set up for the purpose. Given the poverty of India, those in charge of government or dominating its politics enjoy a lifestyle far in excess of that experienced by their peers in much richer countries such as Singapore or the Netherlands. India’s post-1947 rulers enjoy a lifestyle and privileges in excess of even what British colonial overseers of this country enjoyed. From villas and aircraft at their disposal to never-ending convoys of vehicles or battalions of servile retainers feeding their vanity, our own self-proclaimed followers of Mahatma Gandhi—and their families—lead lives very different from that of the Mahatma and his family. Watching such neo-Maharajas sail past, surrounded by guards and serenaded by flunkeys, citizens may be excused for believing that democracy has not prevented the governors from belonging to an entirely separate planet from the governed. However, now that it is the Tricolour and not the Union Jack that flies above Rashtrapati Bhavan, the high life indulged in by pretend followers of Mahatma Gandhi are not reason enough to destroy property through the carrying out of agitational activity. Those indulging in such activities need to be held to account financially, and there are signs that finally, this may actually be made the norm. Hopefully, there will not be a judicial or other obstacle to efforts being made by the UP government and the Indian Railways to recover at least some of the moneys lost during the CAA agitation as a consequence of deliberate violence against property.
Handheld devices for facial recognition technology need to be distributed for use by those tasked with the protection of law and order so as to identify those guilty of vandalism. Crowd-spotting drones need to be extensively developed and used. Should the perpetrators of violence lack the means to make restitution immediately, a lien needs to be placed on their future income and assets so that the amount due gets paid off over time. Rather than incurring even more public expense through incarceration, what is needed in cases of destruction of property unaccompanied by loss of life is financial restitution. The Indian Railways estimates that the Eastern Railway suffered a loss of $10 million as a consequence of anti-CAA riots, while the damage to the Northeast Frontier Railway was about $1.3 million. Thus far the UP police have yet to give an estimate of the losses that the state has suffered as a consequence of the damage to property caused as a consequence of anti-CAA agitators. It needs to be remembered that private property (such as vehicles or shops) that is damaged should also be compensated from the moneys collected by the authorities from the rioters. Apart from those directly involved in acts of violence to property and the public, those proved through audio and video evidence of having directly instigated the rioters should also be held accountable, and to a greater degree than mere foot soldiers. Proportionate financial punishment needs to get carried out in all cases of loss of property (while loss of life needs to be met by prison, besides financial restitution). In states where the BJP is in opposition and carries out similar acts of vandalism, elements in that party too should be presented with a bill that they need to pay. The BJP leadership needs to move away from its longstanding habit of regarding its own cadres as automatically free from guilt, whether it be in matters of corruption or the causing of loss of property. A party seeking a uniform civil code needs to apply uniform standards to all elements, whether these be rivals or supporters. Those citizens who in India break laws and despoil public property at whim change within hours on landing in countries such as Australia or Singapore, where such behaviour is frowned upon socially and censured, in the latter case, by law. BJP-ruled states have not implemented Nitin Gadkari’s move to make those flouting traffic rules bear a significant rather than derisory cost. This continuing immunity provided to traffic violators does not speak well of a party that claims to be different, but several of whose leaders and cadres continue to follow the same dismal track trod by the political class of the country since India became the first country to free itself of the modern colonial yoke in 1947.
The policy of making those who destroyed public (and private) property pay should initially be implemented in situations where there is clear evidence against specific individuals. As mentioned, methods for collecting such evidence need to be made available not just to regular members of the police force, but to selected members of volunteer groups who work alongside the regular police to ensure that those responsible for violations of the law get identified. Such volunteers should not themselves intervene in situations (save in self-defence or to prevent bodily harm to another), but should confine themselves to collecting proof of wrongdoing of perpetrators of violence. For too long, the destruction of property in the name of freedom to agitate has taken place without any financial blowback. Moves by the Indian Railways and the UP administration to impose costs on genuine—repeat, genuine—depredators need to become the norm, so that a citizen resident in India adopts the same respect for civic behaviour that he or she demonstrates in countries that do not witness the daily paroxysms of violence and destruction that are commonplace in India.

Putin and Xi may gain hugely from Trump’s Iran war (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The US President has gambled on igniting anti-clerical protests in Iran and scaring away the Iranians from a retaliatory response to the Soleimani assassination. Should these calculations fail, US allies in Middle East may dissociate themselves from the war with Iran that Trump has launched.

New Delhi: With his ordering of the killing of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani by the US military, President Donald J. Trump has embarked on a gamble that those advising him expect will lead to the meltdown of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Given the conventional “escalation dominance” of US forces in the Middle East, the expectation of President Trump is clearly that Iranian forces will either swallow the Soleimani escalation without going in for kinetic armed operations directed against US forces or citizens, restraint borne out of fear of being met by a non-proportionate response by the Pentagon to any such move on Teheran’s part. Either way, the calculation in the White House seems to be that the overwhelming bulk of the population within the Islamic Republic of Iran will shed its fear of the military and its auxiliary forces and move into the streets in large enough numbers to cause a gridlock that would severely limit the scope for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to initiate punishing retaliatory strikes against US assets. The intention behind the ever-increasing sanctions regime put in place by the US against Iran is to drive the population of Iran to desperation and onto the streets, as indeed took place recently after modest hikes in the prices of petroleum were announced. Those demonstrations have convinced those advising President Trump on Iran that “the structure (of power in the Islamic Republic) is so rotten that a hard kick would bring it tumbling down”— the killing of the individual who represents the hard internal and external fist of the clerical regime that has been ruling Iran since the clerically engineered collapse of the Bani Sadr government in 1981. The perception of those advising Trump on Iran (who in chemistry and composition share considerable similarity with those who guided the policy of President George W. Bush towards Iraq during 2001-2009) is that the clerical regime in Iran is by its very nature and composition an unreliable partner for peace, and that the same has to be replaced before a stable settlement between Teheran and Washington is arrived at. Of course, public statements and even the tweets of the 45th President of the US mask this stark view of the Khomeinist regime in Iran. The problem with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) arrived at by the UN Security Council Permanent 5 plus Germany, according to the Trump White House, is that its clauses do not in any way address what in its view is the overriding need for regime change in Teheran. Hence the demand by Washington that Teheran agree to conditions, the acceptance of which would result in a steep fall in respect for the clerical regime, especially among its closest followers. Not surprisingly, the clerical regime has declined to commit suicide, thereby making its annihilation the only option possible for the current US administration to follow. There is, therefore, the logic of regime change in the apparently “reckless and poorly thought” steps being taken by the Pentagon on the instructions of President Trump, who would like to witness the meltdown of the clerical regime in Teheran (together—separately—with the much more consequential outcome of ensuring that China does not overtake the US in either GDP or technological prowess for the foreseeable future). Whatever be the perceived idiosyncrasies of President Trump (such as his apparent subservience to the wishes of Turkey’s Wahhabi Head of State R.T. Erdogan), it must be admitted that the 45th President of the US has not gone the way of Barack Obama in flinching from seeking to change the course of geopolitical currents, whether in the case of China or in Iran. The only forceful external intervention by Obama was in the Arab Spring of 2011, but that was mostly the consequence of the activism of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rather than her nominal boss.
It is not happenstance that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been repeatedly talking of promoting “freedom” and “democracy” in Iran. The expectation is that the clerical regime is so detested by the bulk of the population of that very consequential country that there would be joy and support for the taking out of a ruthless head of a service known to be the enforcer of the clerical order in Iran. That large sections of the Iranian public would head to the barricades to protest against an acceleration towards a conflict with the US. Clearly, there are individuals within Iran who seek the overthrow of the system of governance headed not by President Rouhani but by Ayatollah Khamenei, and it is possible that the intelligence on the whereabouts of Quds Force Commander Soleimani came not from Iraq (as has been assumed) but from within Iran, from those unhappy at the vice-like grip over authority of the IRGC and its commanders. The operation to kill Commander Soleimani seems to have assumed not just the certainty of some retaliation from the side of the clerical regime, but an outpouring of relief at the passage of the combat veteran. This latter event seems not to have occurred, and those mourning Soleimani seem to be in much greater number than those happy at his passing, and who seem to be in no hurry to advertise their joy lest they be sent to Evin prison. The expectation of the White House appears to have been that the spectacular takeout (in full videographic view) of Soleimani would create panic and confusion within the clerical regime. Instead, it has moved swiftly to install a replacement for an individual regarded by some regime change planners in the US as irreplaceable. As has happened with North Korea, the blocking of transparent means of securing funds has led the regime in Teheran to enter channels that are opaque, yet which generate sufficient funds to ensure that core diplomatic and security needs get met. Where the Iranians seem to have erred is in the assumption that President Trump would not risk a kinetic escalation of the conflict between Washington and Teheran by providing a casus belli in the form of the killing of Commander Soleimani. In order to retain its credibility as a deadly fighting force, and therefore the longevity of the clerical regime, the IRGC will need to inflict serious pain on US military and diplomatic assets in the vicinity of the attack that killed the Quds Force supremo.
Unlike the ideologues with which he has surrounded himself, and for whom the destruction of the clerical regime in Teheran is a sacred mission, Donald J. Trump is a pragmatist willing to gamble on methods and outcomes. Hence his signing off on the decision to kill Soleimani. The worry is if the expectation of popular anger in Teheran at the clerical regime does not manifest itself. That would leave the regime free to devise and carry out countermeasures after what in essence is a declaration of war by the White House against Ayatollah Khamenei and his subordinates. Judging by developments in Iraq, it seems likely that the present US administration has ranged itself on the side of members of the Wahhabi and Sunni community in Iraq who are unhappy at the loss of primacy since 2003 to the Shia majority in the country. In Syria from 2011 onwards, Wahhabi elements and a section of the Sunni community were prodded into launching a “freedom struggle” designed to dislodge Bashar Assad. That struggle directly led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and to the exodus of millions to Europe and elsewhere. The entire blame for such happenings has been placed at Assad’s door, for the “crime” of fighting to protect his regime and his life from the same fate as befell Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The worry for countries that are reliant for their petroproduct needs on the Middle East is that the regime change champions around Donald Trump will go the way of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and engineer an armed “freedom struggle” in Iraq against a Shia-majority government that (unsurprisingly) is close to Teheran. The intention behind such a struggle would be to ensure that any alternative regime in Baghdad distance itself from Teheran and move closer towards the Sunni regimes that are close to the US in matters of economics and security. The agitation against the Iraqi regime that is being extensively covered by BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera has created suspicion in the minds of authorities in Baghdad about US-EU intentions, aware as they are of the antipathy that both sides of the Atlantic have towards Shia groups and causes generally. The Sunnis in Iraq (especially the Wahhabi fringe) are eager to assume a leadership position within the Central government in Baghdad, if not the dominance that they had during the period of Saddam Hussein Tikriti. Any effort at reproducing a repeat of the 2011-2018 operations in Syria in Iraq will this time lead to sectarian conflict across the Middle East. However, this would suit the ambitions of Erdogan, who has ensured that Turkey has replaced Saudi Arabia and Qatar as the principal regional backer of the Wahhabi International. The Trump White House seems as unconcerned (or as clueless) about the certainty of such collateral damage should it persist with overt and covert efforts at diluting the power of the Baghdad regime. This time around, given that the clerical regime in Teheran is by now aware that the single-minded focus of the Trump White House is on regime change in Iran, sectarian tensions are likely to flare up in several GCC states, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The IRGC has had decades in which to establish deep-rooted proxies and sleeper cells in the region, and the taking out of Qassem Soleimani has (in their view) proven that a state of formally undeclared war now exists between the Teheran regime and Washington.
Should the US military use bases in Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait or elsewhere in the Middle East to launch strikes against Iran, these would almost certainly result in efforts by the clerical regime in Teheran to undermine such regimes through either sectarian strife or acts of violence. Any intensification of the Syria-model “freedom struggle” against the Iraqi government will come on the heels of similar public manifestations in Lebanon against a government that (as in Iraq) has Hezbollah or its variants as a key component. The support given by Trump to the movements in Lebanon and Iraq against the governments there, together with the kinetic action against Soleimani, indicates that President Trump has decided to go all the way in backing the ongoing struggle against Shia power that is being waged not so much by Sunnis as by the Wahhabi component within that substantial global grouping. Just as President George W. Bush (through his obsessive focus on Saddam Hussein Tikriti) opened the way for Iran to gain Iraq as a primary ally, so also the tactics being followed by Trump are likely to result in a Syria-style civil war in Iraq that will generate tens of thousands of casualties and many more times that number refugees from that country. It is also likely to make the US the second non Muslim-majority country in the world after Israel to be the focus for attack by the terror groups within the Shia Middle Eastern Shia community. Another blowback would be a sharp reduction in stability in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as in Kuwait and Qatar, should those countries continue to permit US forces to conduct offensive operations against Iran and its allies from their territory.
Both Vladimir Putin as well as R.T. Erdogan seem to have captured the respect and imagination of President Trump. The US President has gambled on (a) igniting massive anti-clerical protests in Iran and (b) scaring away the Iranians from a robust retaliatory response to the Soleimani assassination. Should these calculations fail, current US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar may need to dissociate themselves from the war with Iran and its allies that Trump has launched. This would open the door for the Sino-Russian military alliance to move into some of the bases that will need to be vacated by the US in a situation where public anger at Washington’s actions leads to severe risk for US nationals throughout the Middle East. Just as George W. Bush opened the door for Iran in Iraq, President Trump may just have given a pathway for the Sino-Russian alliance to replace the US as the predominant external power in the Middle East. In a context of all-out war between Iran and its allies and the US and its diminishing stock of allies, most Middle Eastern powers would be hesitant to host US forces in a way that they would not be to base forces from Russia (which has already proven its reliability as a friend in Syria) and Moscow’s partner, China. Where India will fit in such changing equations is uncertain.