December 17, 2011


Mail Today(December 15)
Kapil Sibal

Pakistan is adept at playing the role of a victim at the hands of others. It will not recognize its own felonies and the injuries it causes to others, but will not tolerate any chastisement for its misdeeds. It has rarely been held accountable for its rogue actions and, as a result, the sense of quasi-immunity it has developed gives it the gumption to demand answers from others for their actions when it should be answerable for its own.The US-Pakistan squabble over the recent incident on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by NATO fire illustrates this particular Pakistani syndrome.

Pakistan has used terrorism as an instrument of state policy for almost two decades, killing thousands of innocent people directly or indirectly. It has harboured some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists on its soil. Osama bi Laden was sheltered in a military garrrison town not far from Islamabad. The former US National Security Adviser General Jim Jones thinks it inconceivable that Generals Kayani and Pasha were not aware of his wherabouts. The departing Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff castigated the truck the Pakistani agencies have with terrorist groups.

In this background the loss of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a firefight with insurgents in the vicinity of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border should be a quickly forgotten foot-note in the chapter and verse of the Pakistani military’s double dealings on terror. Yet, Pakistan has gone to town over this incident as if this was the last straw of high-handedness by the US on the Pakistani camel’s overburdened and long suffering back of a self-less combat against terrorism.

The fury against the US unleashed in the media by the Pakistani establishment is bizarre in its proportions. It is as if Pakistan believes it has the capacity to take on the United States politically and militarily. In a dangerous game of political brinksmanship, General Kayani has ordered the Pakistani forces on the border to use force to repel NATO attacks. The Americans have been ordered to vacate the Shamshi base which they have done. NATO convoys carrying fuel and supplies for the forces in Afghanistan have been suspended in a bid to pinch the Americans where it hurts. The routes will be opened after the Pakistanis get the redress they want. The Pakistan government intends to review intelligence level cooperation. In a pique of self-defeating anger Pakistan boycott the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan (after striving to keep India out of secondary Afghanistan-related parleys it absented itself from a principal one) presumably because it calculated that its petulance will reap military-related and financial returns.

Many Pakistani commentators believe that the country has been presented a unique opportunity to extract major concessions from the US as the balance of needs is in Pakistan’s favour. They have made themselves believe that they have been victims of such gross mistreatment by the Americans that they can in all good conscience seek inflated amends that would include a US commitment to settle the Kashmir problem and limit India’s role in Afghanistan. The narrative of some thoughtful Pakistanis now is that the US is the most dangerous country in the world, that it wants to give India hegemony in South Asia and that India may emulate the lawless US in using drones across the LOC in Kashmir.

The Pakistan military has succeeded in whipping a nationalist frenzy over the border incident, excluding any reasoned debate on rights and wrongs, the ever present danger of miscalculation and mistake in permitted intelligence and armed actions against the Taliban, especially in the light of the predatory activities of the Haqqani group, and joint investigation. The US has given advanced warnings over months about the depletion of their patience in the face of Pakistani stalling over cross-border attacks in Afghanistan from Pakistani soil. The civilian government, weak as it is, has submissively yielded to lobbies bent on biting the hand that has fed the country for decades and whose aid would be vital to meet the pressing financial needs of Pakistan’s faltering economy.

Pakistan cannot play the drama of victimhood too long. It has to make peace with the US after some token amends by the latter. US options are limited because of the compulsions of logistics for Afghanistan through Pakistan, but it is hardly likely to accept being blackmailed. Already the Congress has decided to withold $700 million of aid funds. In the longer term Pakistan needs the US much more than the reverse, and so Pakistan’s bluster has to be shorter lived than might be calculated. If Pakistan believes it is a victim of US imperiousness, the US will not be wrong in believing it is a victim of Pakistani duplicity.

The writer is a former Foreign Secretary

By Choosing Arms Over Diplomacy, America Errs in Asia


Published: December 15, 2011

HAWKS on both sides of the Pacific greeted the Obama administration’s decision last month to fortify, rather than throttle back, America’s vast influence in East Asia as a defining moment in a looming confrontation between the United States and China. In the rush to militarize the world’s most important bilateral relationship, however, two questions have not been answered: Are the disputes that roil Asia more effectively resolved through armed might or diplomacy? If the answer is diplomacy, where is American statecraft when it is needed?

With the economy in disarray, President Obama chose a costly instrument in deciding to expand the American military commitment in Asia by deploying a Marine contingent to Australia; the move will only help insulate the Pentagon from meaningful spending cuts and preserve the leading role the military has played in foreign policy since the 9/11 attacks.

In looking to the military, Mr. Obama was embellishing an old policy course. For more than a century, the Pacific rim of Asia has seen a number of unnecessary American wars and interventions, beginning with Washington’s imperial thrust through Guam and the Philippines, its role in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion in China, and its 40-year-long Open Door policy (a demand that trading rights in Chinese coastal cities be shared among industrial nations that had sought zones of influence). In 1949, after Communist forces prevailed in China’s civil war, President Harry S. Truman chose not to engage the new People’s Republic but to contain it alongside the Soviet empire — with which Mao Zedong soon aligned, earlier entreaties to Washington having been rebuffed.
Having dismissed a diplomatic opening along with advice from some of his own China experts, Truman militarized Sino-American relations on China’s borders by extending aid to the French in Indochina and then by endeavoring, disastrously, to reunite the Korean Peninsula by force, in response to North Korea’s effort to do the same by invading its southern neighbor. The agonizing stalemate that followed foreshadowed America’s doomed intervention in Vietnam.

Mr. Obama, like his predecessors, seems now to be embracing a militarized policy with regard to China, the sinew of which is a global network of military bases that has changed little since the peak of the cold war. Far from reducing its profile in Asia, the Pentagon has been quietly enhancing or reconfiguring its capacity there in recent decades. For example, it has been building up forces on the United States territory of Guam, a far-reaching strategic enclave in the Pacific much like the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Pentagon strategists say the aim is to “dissuade, deter and defeat” regional aggressors. And in recent months, the Defense Department has been developing a strategy for Asia called “AirSea Battle,” an instrument with which American military power can address “asymmetrical threats in the Western Pacific,” an implicit reference to China.

Washington justifies its Pacific buildup by citing China’s increasingly menacing claims on the region’s contested waterways. But there has been no serious American-led effort to resolve such disputes through bilateral or multilateral diplomatic rounds.

Indeed, America’s top diplomat has become the chief civilian advocate for military answers to diplomatic challenges. Speaking in Honolulu last month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for “a more broadly distributed military presence” in Asia. While in Manila, she appeared on an American warship and reaffirmed the nearly 60-year-old security pact between the United States and the Philippines. She also has endorsed the creation of an American-led regional trade pact that pointedly excludes China for the present, a remarkably petty snub compared to the way her legendary predecessor George C. Marshall offered (without success, in the face of Stalin’s suspicions) to include the Soviet Union in the postwar reconstruction plan that now bears Marshall’s name. And this month she visited Myanmar, where the Obama administration has assiduously worked to neutralize a corrupt and repressive government in favor of democratic reform; in the grander strategic game, this, too, could be read in Beijing as a tactic to weave the country — which has been Beijing’s ally — into an American noose around China.

Since the end of the cold war, senior diplomats and general officers have coalesced in support of a central military role in the formulation and execution of foreign affairs. This role is a consequence of the growing imbalance between America’s diplomatic and military resources, and it shaped lamentably militarized responses to the Balkan crisis of the 1990s, the 9/11 attacks, the reconstitution of Iraq and now the rise of China. Mrs. Clinton may declare herself, as she did in an October article in Foreign Policy and again in Honolulu, to be for “a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic and otherwise” in the Asia-Pacific region, but this ignores the fact that the country’s diplomatic capacity has been cruelly cut back over the last two decades, particularly in relation to the Pentagon’s.

In fact, the Pentagon can be expected to keep outspending the State Department at an enormous rate — even in the unlikely event that Congress musters the courage to impose draconian budget cuts, as the law requires, in the wake of the deficit-reduction super committee’s collapse. Currently, Washington is allocating about a dozen dollars for defense outlays for every dollar it spends on diplomacy and international assistance. In Honolulu, Mrs. Clinton also celebrated the “opportunities and obligations” in Asia that are ripe for exploration after the immense expenditure of American blood and coin in Iraq and Afghanistan. That recalls the way the country’s policy making elite saw fresh dangers as well as opportunities in Asia after America’s withdrawal from Vietnam — an earlier example of Washington’s cyclical preoccupation with perceived threats from one end of the Eastern Hemisphere to the other.

So long as Congress insists on lavishing funds on the Pentagon at the State Department’s expense, there will be no shortage of perceived monsters to hem in or destroy. Witness the new species taking form in Asia.

Stephen Glain is a journalist and the author of “State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire.”

“India and Japan: Shaping the Indo-Pacific”

“India and Japan: Shaping the Indo-Pacific”
6:00 pm – 7:30 pm: 22 December, 2011
WWF Auditorium, 172-B, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi 110 003

As India and Japan prepare to hold their 6th consecutive Annual Summit at the end of this month, geo-economic imperatives and geo-political convergences continue to drive the Strategic and Global Partnership which the two countries established in 2006.

Aspen Institute India invites you to a panel discussion on “India and Japan: Shaping the Indo-Pacific” to examine the economic, security and regional dimensions of this critical partnership between Asia’s largest and most developed democracies. The Speakers at the Panel include H.E. Mr. Akitaka Saiki, Ambassador of Japan to India;Prof. Akihiko Tanaka, Professor of International Politics at the University of Tokyo;Mr. Amitabh Kant, Managing Director & CEO, DMIC; and Mr. Makoto Suzuki, Managing Director Mitsui & Co. India Pvt Ltd .

The session will be chaired by Ambassador H.K. Singh, former Ambassador of India to Japan and ICRIER-Wadhwani Chair in India-US Policy Studies.

Registration will begin at 5:30 pm.

Thursday, December 22, 2011 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM

WWF Auditorium
172-B, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi 110 003

Thursday, December 22, 2011 by 11:00 AM

Please respond by clicking one of the buttons below

Ambassador Akitaka Saiki after graduating from Tokyo University in 1976 entered Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). He was Second Secretary, Embassy of Japan in the United States of America (Apr. 1977); First North America Division, MOFA (Jun. 1981); Assistant Director, First North America Division, MOFA (Jun. 1983); Assistant Director, First International Economic Affairs Division, MOFA (Nov. 1983); Deputy Director, Second Southeast Asia Division, MOFA (Jul. 1986); Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Geneva Switzerland (Sep. 1988); Director, Second West Europe Division, MOFA (Aug. 1993); Director, Second International Organizations Division, MOFA (Jan. 1995); Director, First International Economic Affairs Division, MOFA (Feb. 1997); Private Secretary to Mr. Keizo Obuchi, Minister for Foreign Affairs (Sep. 1997); Deputy Press Secretary to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi (Jul. 1998); Deputy Director-General, Economic Affairs Bureau, MOFA (Apr. 2000); Director, Personnel Division, MOFA (Sep. 2000); Deputy Director-General, Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, MOFA (Sep. 2002); Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Japan in the United States of America (Jan. 2006); Director-General, Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, MOFA (Jan. 2008); Since February 2011, he is the Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of India concurrently to the Kingdom of Bhutan. He was born on October 10, 1952.

Akihiko Tanaka is Professor of International Politics at the Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies and at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, the University of Tokyo. He is currently Vice President for International Affairs at the University of Tokyo. He obtained his B.A. in International Relations at the University of Tokyo's College of Arts and Sciences in 1977 and his Ph.D. in Political Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981. Mr. Tanaka's specialties include theories of international politics, contemporary international relations in East Asia, and Japan’s foreign policy. He has served on various advisory commissions of international institutions as well as the Japanese government including the East Asia Vision Group (1999-2001), the East Asia Vision Group II (2011), and Japanese Government's Council on Security and Defense Capabilities (2003, 2009). He has numerous books and articles in Japanese and English including The New Middle Ages: The World System in the 21st Century (Tokyo: The International House of Japan, 2002) and "Global and Regional Geo-strategic Implications of China's Emergence," Asian Economic Policy Review (vol. 1, no.1, 2006.6, pp. 180-196). Tanaka’s most recent book is Posuto kuraishisu no sekai (The Post-Crisis World) (Tokyo: Nihon keizai shimbun shuppansha, 2009).

Amitabh Kant is presently posted as Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation, the nodal authority for India’s most ambitious Infrastructure project aiming to develop a model Industrial Corridor of international standards with emphasis to develop it as a “Global Manufacturing and Trading Hub”. Apart from holding many prestigious positions in the Government of India, Amitabh Kant has also served as National Project Director of the Rural Tourism Project of UNDP which made a paradigm shift in spreading tourism to Indian villages. During his tenure India Tourism focused on infrastructure development, quality elevation and diversification of India’s tourism products and services. He is also the author of “Branding India – An Incredible Story” and has been the key driver of the campaigns like “Incredible India” and “God’s Own Country” which positioned and branded India as a leading tourism destination.

Makoto Suzuki is the Managing Officer & Chief Representative of South West Asia of Mitsui & Co Pvt Ltd and Managing Director of Mitsui & Co. India Pvt Ltd. He joined Mitsui & Co Ltd, Tokyo in 1981 and since then has held several positions in Electric Machinery Export Division; Electrical Machinery Department at New York; Strategic Planning Department & Power Projects Division of the Infrastructure Projects Business Unit.

Born in 1950, Ambassador Hemant Krishan Singh holds a Masters Degree from Delhi University where he attended and later taught at St. Stephen`s College before joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1974. Between 1976-1991, he served in various capacities at Indian Missions in Lisbon, Maputo, Washington D.C., Kathmandu and Belgrade. At the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, he has held assignments of Under Secretary (Americas), Director (Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan) and Joint Secretary (West Europe). He was Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the UN in Geneva from 1995-99, covering the areas of human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, labour, health and intellectual property. Between 1999-2002, he was the Ambassador of India to Colombia with concurrent accreditation to Ecuador and Costa Rica, playing an active role in promoting economic and commercial relations with Latin America. As Ambassador to Indonesia with concurrent accreditation to Timor Leste from 2003-2006, he was closely associated with the intensification of relations with Indonesia as well as ASEAN. He served as India’s Ambassador to Japan from June 2006 to December 2010, contributing extensively to the forging of the India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership through six Bilateral Summits. Ambassador Singh holds the ICRIER-Wadhwani Chair in India-US Policy Studies at ICRIER, New Delhi, since September 2011. He is a member of the India-US, India-US-Japan and India-Singapore Track II Strategic Dialogues. He is married to Mrinalini Singh, who is an artist, and they have two children. Ambassador Singh speaks several European languages. He plays golf and his interests include Asian civilizations and the natural environment.

December 15, 2011

Time to side with India to cut off ISI: US Senator Mark Kirk

December 15, 2011 9:30 pm

Washington: Contending that US relationship with Pakistan had reached a dead end, an American lawmaker has said there was a sense among Congressmen that time had come to “side” with India to “cut off the ISI”.

Senator Mark Kirk said at a discussion forum by prestigious Washington-based think tank, Foreign Policy Initiative, that a US-India tie-up was ISI’s “horror story” but time had come for it to evolve.

“You know, Yogi Bear said when you reach a fork in the road, take it. I think we hit the fork in the road in August and September between the United States and Pakistan. We saw a large truck bomb assembled, lit off next to a US base, 77 US casualties,” Kirk said.

In recent times US’ ties with Pakistan have plunged to an all-time low following a series of incidents over the year, including the killing of two people by a CIA contractor, the Abbottabad raid, and finally the NATO airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

“My sense of the Senate and probably the House is we’re ready to take that fork in the road. We’re ready to side with India, to cut off the ISI,” the Illinois Senator said.

“It appears to me the Pakistani horror story of us siding with India should now evolve. Pakistan has decided we’re leaving.

Pakistan has decided that they can cripple the civilian government,” he said.

The United States, he said, needs a stable party in the region who has a status quo pro-civilian anti-terror interest, which is India.

“And in many ways, this is the ISI horror story, but I would say they picked this, and we should now arrange that fate for them,” he said in response to a question. Kirk urged General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to play what he called “hard ball” with Pakistan.

“Get in with the Indian Intelligence Service, the Indian Chief of Staff, bring Indian, not just economic but military assistance on line, and build some long relationships so that in the mid-presidential term next time, the 2014 time frame, you have a steady partner with new money coming on the table that can send an important signal to Afghanistan,” Kirk said.

Obama administration wants to sell drones to India

The writer has posted comments on this articleIANS | Dec 15, 2011, 07.46PM IST

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration has been quietly pushing to sell armed drones to key allies, including India, but it has run into resistance from lawmakers concerned about the proliferation of technology and know-how, media reports said.

The Pentagon wants more North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members to have such pilotless aircraft to ease the burden on the US in Afghanistan, and in future conflicts like the alliance's air campaign in Libya this year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

India, which has been purchasing drones from Israel for quite some time now, could also be one of the potential buyers.

India has been developing its drone capabilities too, but does not have armed drones like the Predators and Reapers used by US security agencies with devastating effect against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.
Obama administration officials recently began informal consultations with lawmakers about prospective sales of armed drones and weapons systems to NATO members Italy and Turkey, while several US allies in the Persian Gulf have been pressing Washington to authorise drone sales, officials were quoted as saying by Fox News.

The Pentagon's proposed sales have set off a behind-the-scenes debate between the administration and some members of Congress over whether the US should speed the spread of a technology that will allow other countries to carry out military strikes by remote control, it said.

So far, the US has sold unarmed drones to several countries, including Italy, but has only allowed sales of armed drones to Britain, citing its relationship with the US and large troop presence in Afghanistan.

The administration is required by law to notify key congressional committees about prospective arms sales. The Congress generally signs off quickly when deals involve NATO allies, but officials said the proposed transfer of armed drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), faces added scrutiny.

'ISI chief Pasha visited Arab countries to discuss military coup in Pakistan'

The writer has posted comments on this articleANI | Dec 15, 2011, 09.56PM IST

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who is at the centre of the Mullen memo-gate controversy, has now claimed that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha had visited Arab countries for discussions on a possible coup by the army.

Ijaz told The Independent newspaper of Britain that a US intelligence source had told him that "their information was that Pasha had traveled to a few of the Arab countries to talk about what would be necessary to do in the event they had to remove (Pakistani President Asif Ali) Zardari from power and so forth".

Ijaz had earlier claimed that the S wing of the ISI was not under the control of Pakistan government and that the army uses it to influence the governments.

He ha said that after the death of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, many things went wrong in Pakistan that showed that there were some hidden hands behind that.

The ISI's S wing had reportedly been involved in many horrible activities and the US had to step forward against that.

The S wing of ISI looks after strategic affairs and is also involved in political affairs of Afghanistan, Ijaz said, adding that it also interfered in the Afghan affairs through the Haqqani Network.

Locations of Free Syrian Army

Delhi HC to decide on EVMs

THURSDAY, 15 DECEMBER 2011 00:41

The Delhi High Court will on January 10 next take a call on whether the upcoming Assembly elections in five States will be conducted through the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) or e-ballot papers.

Taking a note of the urgency involved in the matter given the Assembly polls in Uttarakhand, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Manipur early next year, the court allowed the plea of petitioner Subramanian Swamy for urgent disposal of the matter.

Janata Party president Swami had alleged that voting through EVMs lacked transparency and either paper printouts should be incorporated in the EVMs or the Election Commission should return to the ballot paper system to avoid tampering at the time of polls.

This assumes significance in wake of the controversy surrounding the use of EVMs in India amid allegations that they are not tamper-proof. The row over the issue had intensified after the general elections in 2009 with several Opposition parties including the BJP demanding that polls in India be conducted through ballot papers. Similar demand was made prior to the local body elections in Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Arguing before a division bench of acting Chief Justice AK Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, Swamy insisted that ‘transparency’ had to be given priority over ‘efficiency’ in the poll process.

He said that the electronic database in the EVMs is controlled by micro-processor chips that are not tamper-proof. He cited instances of other European democracies where ballot paper continues to be the mode of voting despite being technologically advanced than India.

The counsel appearing for the Election Commission sought to convince that paper trail or the use of ballot papers was not feasible as not only it would require immense expenditure but also result in cutting down forests given the huge quantity of paper that would be required for the purpose.

“There are 10 lakh voting centres in the country and 73 crore voters. Voting through ballot papers would require huge expenditure besides cutting down of trees. We are still exploring the possible modifications in the EVMs. The EVMs have a benefit that electronic database in them can be reconstructed anytime,” the counsel said.

Interestingly, an expert committee appointed by the EC is considering introduction of “paper trail” so that voters can get a printout that will show symbol on which the vote was cast. The voter will be required to put it in a box before leaving the polling booth. For this, the a small printer can be installed along with the EVMs.

The technical expert committee on EVMs, headed by Prof PV Indiresan, former Director of IIT-M has also held discussion with officials of the Bharat Electronic Limited and Electronic Corporation.

The EC appointed the committee on October 8 last when at an all-party meeting majority of political parties backed the proposal to have a ‘voter verifiable paper trail’ in EVMs to counter the charges of tampering. The BJP had been in the forefront of this demand.

Referring the matter to the three-member committee, the EC in its Press note said, “Several political parties have suggested the possibility of incorporating a ‘voter verifiable paper trail’ in EVMs to be explored.”

In the background of severe indictment of EVMs and the fact that Indirsan committee is yet to take a final call on the matter, the stout opposition to the proposal by EC counsel seen as a surprising development.

Eight Priorities for Giving New Impetus to Innovation in France

"If current trends continue, within the next 10 to 20 years, the West (and specifically Europe) may forfeit its role as scientific and technological leader, losing out to Asia that will become the main base for innovation and R&D. For France, since 2003, the innovation deficit has translated into ongoing trade deficit amounting to 50 billion euros on average per year over the past four years. The market share of 'made in France' within OECD countries, which already dropped 50% between 1998 and 2004, is declining. Without sufficient innovation, the structural deficit of the trade balance will endure, impeding growth and employment and - in the end - the well being of our fellow citizens." These are the opening words describing the alarming situation of the French economy and France's innovation deficit in a book written by Think Tank Innovation of the Association des Centraliens. But the 211-page book is hardly pessimistic as the title of the book published by Armand Colin, 8 priorités pour dynamiser l'innovation en France (8 priorities for giving new impetus to innovation in France) perfectly sums up the outlook and enthusiastic approach of the dozen members of Think Tank Innovation whose research drew on the field experience of some 1,142 Ecole Centrale engineers, of which 20% work abroad.

Eight throught provoking priorities to fuel action!
Crédits : Association des Centraliens

In the sixties and seventies, France had clearly succeeded in becoming a world class leader in major industries, such as energy with a focus on nuclear power, aeronautics (Airbus), water management, building and public works, automobiles as well as luxury goods, hotels and catering and banks. However, since then the situation has radically changed, especially as France has been innovating much less for more than a decade. France now holds tenth rank for innovation on the European Commission's scoreboard! Notably, there are no French companies in the classification of the world's fifty most innovative companies. "We do not have the place that we ought to have," stated Guy Delcroix who is involved Think Tank Innovation. Other alarming facts include the fact that small businesses and industries, albeit numerous, are not much involved in innovation and that French companies are quite timid with regards to European R&D projects. Also, French higher education is still, on average, comparatively way down the list of the world's top universities.

Given this situation, it is hardly surprising that the Association des Centraliens decided to address the issue of innovation at a think tank facilitated by Olivier Ferrary. Its approach is particularly legitimate as Ecole Centrale engineers have a tradition of innovation, as illustrated by some of its 'illustrious graduates': Gustave Eiffel, Louis Blériot, Pierre-Georges Latécoère, Jules Peugeot and recently Francis Bouygues. "Not to mention all the anonymous graduates, the 35% of Ecole Centrale engineers who are or were in Research & Development and whose activities have contributed to innovation," underscored Olivier Ferrary. Innovation is an Ecole Centrale focus that its alumni are passionate about, explaining why they attempted to answer the following question in their book, which is the outcome of a year's work, 'What must be done to drive innovation in France?' They start with making a realistic and uncompromising diagnosis and note that much has been done to back innovation, encourage academia and industry to work together and fund innovation via the research tax credit, Oseo and ANR (French National Research Agency). However, they also observe that there are still numerous impediments to innovation. The first is a cultural impediment. "Clearly, we no longer have the culture of innovation," lamented Guy Delcroix. There is also a certain weakness of research, funding problems, lingering administrative burdens, the still high cost of innovation and innovation management within companies, which seems defective.

"Therefore, there are many causes involved in France's deficient innovation," explained the Think Tank Innovation facilitator. This is the starting point for his 8 priorities, presented in the book as a tree where each branch is a priority, growing its own recommendations (the leaves of the branches) that have corresponding concrete proposals set forth in the body of the report. Among the 8 priorities, we would like to mention the first that recommends "the creation of a culture of, and pride in innovation in France" and the eighth and last called Innovation serving a vision: defining and rolling out an industrial innovation policy tailored to the stakes involved in the world economy of the twenty-first century. Both are emblematic priorities of the work that must be undertaken urgently. Clearly the work is of epic proportions, but France will have begin to tackle the task if it does not want to sink toward the bottom of world classifications for innovation.

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December 14, 2011

NATO dreams of civil war in Syria

ASIA TIMES 15 December 2011
By Pepe Escobar

Every grain of sand in the Syrian desert now knows there won't be a "responsibility to protect"-enabled North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) “humanitarian” intervention to provoke regime change in Damascus. A protracted war like in Libya is not feasible - even though those faultless democratic practitioners, the House of Saud, have offered to pay for it, lavishly.

Yet the fog of near war remains impenetrable. What is NATO really up to in Syria?

It was already established (see The shadow war in Syria Asia Times Online, December 2, 2011) that NATO had set up a command and control center in Turkey's southern Hatay province - where British commandos and French intelligence are training


the dodgy Free Syria Army (FSA). The target: to foment a civil war engulfing northern Syria.

Now comes the confirmation, via the website of former United States Federal Bureau of Investigation whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, that a pincer movement may be in effect, involving Jordan. [1]

Edmonds quotes local sources according to whom "hundreds of soldiers who speak languages other than Arabic" have been "moving back and forth ... between the King Hussein air base in al-Mafraq" and "Jordanian villages adjacent to the Syrian border".

Edmonds sustains none of this is being reported by US media because of a gag order from above that in theory expired this Tuesday. And don't try asking King Abdullah of Jordan about it.

The base at al-Mafraq is virtually across the border from Dar'a. A lot of action has been going on in Dar'a recently - an epicenter of the anti-President Bashar al-Assad movement. As far as the Syrian news agency Sana is concerned, security forces have been routinely killed by "terrorist gangs". As far as the "rebels" are concerned, these are patriotic army defectors attacking military supply lines.

Let's hit plan B
By adopting this pincer movement, NATO in Syria is now actively diversifying into an Iraq-in-the-1990s strategy; to submit Syria to a prolonged state of siege before eventually going for the kill.

Yet as much as NATO would pray to Allah for the contrary, Syria is not Libya. It's much smaller and compact, but more populated and with a real, battle-tested army. On top of being immensely estranged from each other by the current eurodrama, the Brits and former colonial power France have calculated they have everything to lose economically if they engage in the folly of a conventional war.

As for the Syrian opposition stalwarts - the Syrian National Council (SNC) - they are a joke. Most are Muslim Brotherhood, with a sprinkling of Kurds. The leader, Burhan Ghalioun, is an opportunist Paris exile with zero credibility (for the average Syrian) although in a recent Wall Street Journal interview he made all the right noises to appease the Israel lobby (no more ties with Iran, no more support to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza).

The FSA claims 15,000 army defectors. But it's infected with mercenaries and what scores of Syrian civilians describe as armed gangs. The SNC, in thesis, is anti-guerrilla. But that's exactly what the FSA is actively practicing, attacking Syrian soldiers and Ba'ath party offices.

The SNC key tactic for now is to sell Western public opinion the Libya-style "potential" nightmare of an imminent massacre in Homs. Not many are buying it - apart from the usual, strident, corporate media suspects. Although both are based in Istanbul, the SNC and the FSA can't seem to get their act together; they look like a lethal version of The Three Stooges.

Then there is the Arab League, which is now controlled by The Eight Stooges; the six GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, aka Gulf Counter-revolution Club) monarchies plus "invited" GCC members Morocco and Jordan. The stooges are subcontractors of NATO's Greater Middle East on (humanitarian) steroids. Nobody, though, is asking where were the stooges were when Beirut and southern Lebanon were destroyed in 2006, and when Gaza was destroyed in 2008 - in both instances by Israel. The stooges don't dare question the divine rights of the US/Israel axis.

NATO's tactics in Syria have been crystal clear for a while now. France, under neo-Napoleonic liberator of Libya President Nicolas Sarkozy, concentrates on turbo-charging escalation. A the same time, Paris is trying to position the rise and rise of the Muslim Brotherhood all across the Arab world as a strategic Western interest - as in curbing Iranian influence.

Then there's the ongoing economic blockade - impossible without cooperation from Iraq (it won't happen), Lebanon (it won't happen) and Jordan (it could, but to Jordan's detriment).

But NATO's wet dream is really to push Turkey to do the dirty work. Irretrievably broke as they are, NATO countries - including the US - simply cannot launch yet another Middle East war that would send oil prices through the roof.

What NATO cannot fathom is the possibility of a sectarian Sunni-Shi'ite war re-exploding in Iraq. In this case, the only safe haven would be Iraqi Kurdistan. And that would strengthen Kurdish unity - from Iraq to Syria, from Turkey to Iran. Turkey in this case would have more pertinent fish to fry than to get embroiled in a war in Syria.

Turkey's double game
Still, the great imponderable in this complex chessboard is Turkey - as in what precisely happened to their much-lauded foreign policy of "zero problems with our neighbors", devised by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Faced with Riyadh's impotence, and Cairo in turmoil, Ankara seems to have monopolized the mantle of Sunni leadership - or guardian of Sunni orthodoxy facing those Shi'ite heretics, mostly from Iran (but also Iraq, Alawis in Syria and Hezbollah).

At the same time, to please NATO and the US, Ankara allows the deployment of missile defense in its territory - which is directed not only against Iran but most of all against Russia. Not to mention Ankara harbors the secret - forbidden - desire to "solve" the Kurdish question for good by establishing an autonomous zone in Syrian territory.

And Ankara also wants to make money; winners in Libya were British and French oil interests, while losers were the Italians and the Turks. But so far Turkey is also losing, especially in Hatay province near the Syrian border, as a free-trade agreement between both countries has been canceled.

To the West's despair, the Assad regime is far from being strangled. To counteract the hefty package of Arab League/Turkish sanctions, the regime has accelerated trade with China - by bartering and bypassing the international financial system.

No wonder Washington is taking the long-haul approach. It has deployed back to Damascus its ambassador Robert Ford - a former assistant to the sinister former destabilizer of Nicaragua John Negroponte when he was ambassador in Baghdad, and a current enthusiast of the House of Saud counter-revolution.

Ford will have plenty of time to exchange e-mails with a Syrian opposition totally in bed with former colonial power France. Talk about a stooge festival; this one is bound to carve its own niche in the annals of Middle East infamy.

1. The report is here. An interview with Syrian journalist Nizar Nayouf is here.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

Russia deserts its guns

Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet union

The Russians are currently spending enormous sums on re-equipping and modernising their armed forces, often through the purchase of foreign technology, as they have deliberately allowed their own military industrial complex to decay

by Vicken Cheterian

Russia’s victory in its lightning war against Georgia in August 2008 did not prevent it from starting to completely overhaul its military soon after. It was a wise decision, according to the military expert Alexander Golts: “It is unusual for a government to carry out reforms after winning a war. But even though various commands had been granted significant resources over 10 prosperous years, the 2008 crisis revealed that the Russian army was ageing, and incapable of handling modern weaponry. That is what drove the minister of defence, Anatoly Serdyukov, to announce the most radical reform in 150 years [since the Crimean war 1853-56].”

The two Chechen wars in the 1990s had already revealed the fragile state of the army. And even though the outcome of the war with Georgia was obvious within 48 hours of the start of hostilities, and a ceasefire was signed on Moscow’s terms after five days, the conflict was a revelation for the military and political leadership. It showed just how obsolete the army’s command and control, reconnaissance and communication systems were. Even though Georgia had no jet fighters, Russia acknowledged that Georgian ground-to-air missiles had shot down four of its planes (three Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack planes and a Tupolev Tu-22 long distance bomber used for reconnaissance missions) (1); Georgia maintains it shot down 21 aircraft. Russia had a greater number of weapons, but the Georgian army showed technological superiority with its T-72 battle tanks modernised in the Czech Republic, Israeli-built drones and modern communication systems.

Such was the shock felt in Moscow (2) that in December 2010 President Dmitry Medvedev announced that $670bn, the equivalent of 2.8% of the country’s GDP for every year until 2020, would be spent on modernising the military. This was the first time since the end of the cold war that such a sum of public money had been invested in this sector, which had been surviving on its exports since the 1990s (3).

For 15 years the Russian army had no new equipment: the air force got no new aircraft until 2003, and since then it has had only a few extra planes. Medvedev has acknowledged that only 15% of the country’s military arsenal is state-of-the-art (4). The new measures aim to allow the armed forces to catch up by replacing 30% of their equipment by 2015.

But it is not certain the government can achieve that target. During the Soviet era, defence was at the heart of the economy. It is hard to get exact figures, but it is estimated that between 20% and 40% of GDP was spent on the military (5). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military industry’s income depended on its exports. Post-Soviet Russia has not developed or produced any new weapons.

Russian brain drain

The army’s current equipment was developed and manufactured under the Communist regime, with two exceptions: the fifth-generation Sukhoi T-50 fighter, which is said to rival the US army’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor as the world’s top jet fighter. Its prototype, tested in 2010, has created interest within the Indian and Vietnamese armies, even though experts say its flight characteristics and engine make it more an advanced fourth-generation than a fifth-generation. The other marvel of advanced Russian technology is the Bulava intercontinental missile, but this has had technical difficulties. “Every attempt to launch it has ended in failure due to one of its components,” says Golts. This is caused, he says, by a “break in the industrial chain of production, which makes the Russian defence industry incapable of mass production”. Thousands of scientists left Russia after the collapse of the USSR, and recruitment is at a standstill. Since Russia’s modernisation efforts ignored the military industrial complex, it is crumbling, with an ageing workforce: the average age of defence industry engineers is 58.

This means it is unlikely Russia will regain the level of production it once had. After Vladimir Putin’s visit to Algeria in March 2006, an $8bn contract was signed for Russia to supply Algeria with 35 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 fighters. In 2008 Algiers sent back the 15 it had received, saying they were of poor quality. The electronic systems did not correspond with the description in the contract, and some components seemed to be from old Soviet-era stock. Moscow did not oppose the return of the aircraft, and allocated them to its own air force.

The saga of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier was another snub. The vessel had operated during the Soviet era as the Baku, and was then renamed after the Soviet hero, Admiral Sergei Gorshkov (1910-1988). Due to lack of funds it was retired before being offered for sale in 1996. In 2004 India announced its intention to buy it for $950m, and renamed it “INS Vikramaditya” after a legendary king. Several contractual changes were made in order to replace the cruise missiles on board with a larger air fleet. After hitches and amendments to the contract, the project cost three times the agreed figure, and delivery was put back from 2008 to 2012. The Gorshkov affair caused a scandal in India — Russia’s biggest client for armaments — and the criticism the Indian authorities have had to endure could drive them to other arms suppliers in the future (6).

For the moment Russia’s arms exports are still rising: $3.4bn in 2001, $7.4bn in 2009, $9.3bn in 2010. But Russia could lose its dominant position in the global arms market. China, which was Russia’s biggest client during the 1990s, is now developing its own J-10 fourth-generation jet fighters, and is producing Type 99 main battle tanks. Although it is still a big importer of Russian arms, it is now ranked behind India and Algeria (7). This year, a few days before the US defence secretary Robert Gates visited Beijing, China unveiled its prototype fifth-generation jet fighter. While China’s armed forces currently absorb its entire production of arms, experts believe China could become a formidable rival to Russian exporters.

The agreement signed in January 2011 for Russia to buy two Mistral amphibious assault ships from France is symbolic of another trend. The Mistral can carry up to 700 soldiers, 60 vehicles and 16 helicopters, and carry out ground attacks, in situations similar to the Georgian conflict. The decision to buy craft made in France was controversial in Russia, where many demanded the $1.9bn contract be given to one of Russia’s many disused naval shipyards. It is not the first time this has happened. In 2009 the Russian army signed an agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to import 12 drones. In 2010 another contract was agreed, authorising the construction on Russian soil of Israeli-designed drones (8).

Foreign suppliers

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, is not surprised to see Russia importing military equipment: “The Soviet Union was an exception,” he says, referring to a self-sufficient military-industrial complex capable of meeting all the needs of the Red Army. “Even the United States, whose defence budget makes up half the world’s spending on defence, buys arms from abroad. By buying elsewhere, the Russian government maintains pressure on its defence industry, making it more competitive in quality, price and deadlines.”

Russia is likely to turn more frequently to foreign suppliers in the future (especially if the current talks on large-scale remilitarisation succeed), even though Serdyukov does not exclude buying domestic defence technology. Although it is in a different situation, the US army is buying more Russian arms, from Kalashnikov rifles to transport helicopters. The Pentagon favours basic, inexpensive, and easily maintained technology with which to equip its new allies, who were formerly supplied with Soviet arms. It hopes to buy 59 Mil Mi-17 troop carrier helicopters from Russia for $800m, to supply Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan (9).

There are signs that civilian industrial technology is also running out of steam. For several years Moscow has been trying to relaunch its Soviet-era satellite navigation system, Glonass, which was intended to rival the American GPS and the European Galileo systems. It was abandoned in the 1990s by president Boris Yeltsin, but in 2002 the Russian authorities announced they were sending 24 new satellites into orbit to have the system ready by 2011. An accident during a launch in 2010 destroyed three of the satellites and caused $476m worth of damage. The Glonass system’s performance remains inferior to its competitors in accuracy and coverage, jeopardising the entire programme (10). Russia’s civil aviation industry prefers to buy craft from Airbus or Boeing than Sukhoi, leaving the commercial future of its passenger plane Superjet 100 in doubt.

For the last 20 years military reform has been a constant feature of Russian political life (11). In the 1990s the term “reform” was used as a euphemism to avoid talking about the collapse of the armed forces. Putin came to power just as a new war was starting in Chechnya. The army had extra funding and, despite the violence it perpetrated and the huge number of civilians and soldiers killed, it managed to regain some of its prestige. Putin used this to project an image of a Russia once again powerful. He reinstated the tradition of military parades in Red Square to commemorate the victory of 9 May 1945, and in 2007 he even brought back the flypast by Tupolev bombers.

Russia as a great power

But Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs says: “Russia no longer has any imperialist impulses. Putin tends to portray the second world war as Russia’s war, neglecting the participation of other countries. Victory in the ‘great patriotic war’ — as we call it — brought Soviet citizens together. Putin is trying to restore Russia’s rank as a great power, not rebuild the empire.”

The overhaul of the armed forces and huge investment in the latest military technology should bear fruit after 2020. So what will Russia’s defence look like then? According to journalist Andrei Soldatov: “This policy of reform has nothing to do with the Russo-Georgian war. It predates it by a long way.” Nonetheless, the army sees it as a punishment, and feels uneasy. In the last two years several special forces units (Spetsnaz) which helped win that war have been disbanded; military service has been abolished and 100,000 officers have been made redundant. All this has provoked opposition in the army, which is traditionally passive and apolitical. The official reason is to reduce the army from 1.2 million soldiers to 1 million. But in reality numbers are already lower, at around 750,000.

When the Mistral contract was signed with France, only Georgia and the three Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) disapproved. Neither Poland nor Turkey were critical, and for good reason: Russia is no military threat to these medium-sized powers. Only because of its ageing nuclear arsenal does Russia remain among the world’s great powers. Despite its forceful rhetoric, the Kremlin frequently has to give in to Washington’s demands. Supplies are transported to US troops in Afghanistan on the Russian rail network, despite Russia’s opposition to the US having military bases in central Asia. In September 2010 Russia was obliged to cancel its contract to sell S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran after pressure from the US and Israel.

How did things get this bad? Alexander Perendijiev — a former officer in the Red Army and the Russian army, and now a university professor — blames corruption: “The people in power think money can solve everything. And yet Serdyukov, the former inspector of finances, was appointed minister of defence to sort things out and curb this phenomenon. The system won’t change unless there is genuine public supervision.” Despite Medvedev’s declarations, it is doubtful there will ever be such a radical change. Since perestroika (12) there has been a lack of planning and political vision as to the role the military-industrial complex should play in the new economy.

Making cooking pots in factories

While the powerful discuss Russia’s modernisation, everyone carefully avoids talking about economic reform, as that brings back traumatic memories of Mikhail Gorbachev’s efforts to modernise the Soviet system, and the collapse of the eastern bloc. Economic reform is no longer on the agenda, but Medvedev and his colleagues acknowledge that the country may be too dependent on oil and gas exports, and that its economic model is out of date. Mineral products are 70% of exports, compared with 5% for machinery (13). If it is limited to tackling bureaucratic corruption and encouraging technological development, Medvedev’s modernisation plan will soon be inadequate, even superficial.

There seems to be no connection between the current debate on modernisation and the huge sums promised to the defence sector. Medvedev suggests investing $2bn (14) in creating a Russian Silicon Valley in Skolkovo, outside Moscow, while Oxana Gaman-Golutvina, professor of political science at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, says there are 32 scientific research centres in the country that badly need funding.

The policies being put forward seem to disregard the reality for those working in a scientific research industry inherited from the Soviet era, just as they ignore the relics of the old defence industry. Commentators are amazed that the new proposals include nothing about creating a bridge between the development of high technology and the defence industry. From Gorbachev to Yeltsin, Putin to Medvedev, Russian leaders have all underestimated the potential of the defence industry. Lukyanov describes the situation: “The conversion that took place during perestroika consisted of making cooking pots in factories designed to make supersonic jets. During the Gaidar reforms [Yegor Gaidar, prime minister June-December 1992] in the 1990s, no one knew what to do with the military-industrial complex, so it was cut off from the rest of the economy, and left to depend on exports. It was not part of the country’s economic system.”

A close examination of the Russian military-industrial complex exposes many myths about Russia, including one that regained currency after the Russo-Georgian conflict, that it wanted a return to the cold war. Even if it had the capability, Russia has no interest in challenging the Nato alliance. There is also a generally accepted idea that Putin opposed the oligarchy inherited from Yeltsin’s presidency, in order to create a regime run by the former KGB and the military. It is reinforced by the fact that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos, has been in prison since 2004. Gaman-Golutvina rejects this: “Putin’s entourage do come from the FSB [successor to the KGB] and the army, but while their influence is real, they exercise power primarily in the energy export sector.”

Neither Soviet nor Russian leaders have ever considered applying high technology to the defence industry, and making it a key part of their modernisation programmes. In Soviet times the defence sector was run in an opaque way, which made it particularly resistant to change (15), and it absorbed a huge proportion of the national budget. Gorbachev-era reformers never imagined that positive change could come from this sector, so they chose to fight it rather than support it. In none of the reforms since then has anyone known how to take advantage of the most advanced sectors of the defence industry, and, not being able to gauge their value, they have simply let them die. While Medvedev is trying to modernise, he fears the social and political consequences of these reforms, so is content for the moment to praise the Silicon Valley model. Even though Russia has oil, gas and other mineral resources, which make huge profits for the ruling classes, can it afford to overlook the development of its advanced technologies?

Vicken Cheterian is a journalist and editor of From Perestroika to Rainbow Revolutions: Reform and Revolution after Socialism, Hurst, London, 2011

(1) A report by Russian experts suggests six planes were shot down, at least half by Russian ground troops.

(2) Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Moscow, 9 August 2010.

(3) “Russia to cap annual defense budget at 2.8% GDP for next decade”, RIA Novosti, Moscow, 25 November 2010.

(4) “Medvedev Says Russia to Triple Military Salaries Next Year”, Bloomberg, 18 March 2011;

(5) William E Odom, The Collapse of the Soviet Military, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998, p 104.

(6) “‘Second-hand’ Gorshkov costlier than new warship: CAG”, The Times of India, New Delhi, 24 July 2009.

(7) “Russia’s arms exports to reach record $10bn in 2010”, RIA Novosti, Moscow, 28 October 2010.

(8) “Israel signs $400 million deal with Russia”, UPI, 15 October 2010.

(9) “On Pentagon Wish List: Russian Copters”, The Wall Street Journal, New York, 8 July 2010.

(10) “Russia to launch new batch of Glonass satellites by June”, RIA Novosti, Moscow, 25 January 2011.

(11) Vicken Cheterian, “Russia’s disarmed response”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, September 2000.

(12) Name given to the programme of reforms launched in 1985 by Mikhail Gorbachev.

(13) “Medvedev calls for economy reform”, BBC News, London, 12 November 2009;

(14) “Russia’s Skolkovo may cost $2 billion in next 3 years - Vekselberg”, RIA Novosti, 1 July 2010.

(15) Archie Brown, The Gorbachev Factor, Oxford University Press, 1996.

Africa’s disputed trees

The Great Green Wall of Africa can either be a literal project, a 15km-wide west-east forest meant to keep the Sahara out, or a metaphor for the addition of trees to the African landscape wherever they’re needed

by Mark Hertsgaard

At first the women weren’t sure they could do it. Or should do it. Many in the village agreed. Digging holes, planting trees, being leaders, weren’t these men’s jobs? “Everyone said we were crazy,” said vivacious Nakho Fall. We were in Koutal, a village in western Senegal where goats and chickens amble across sandy lanes that separate households. She was sitting under a shade tree with other women and their children; at 11am it was already very hot. (A month later the summer rains and humidity would make that day’s weather seem sublime.)

The men of Koutal could not plant trees, she explained, because they were busy. Some worked in the nearby salt factory, transported there by beat-up vans that did not return them home until dark. Others had migrated far away to Dakar, Senegal’s capital, in search of jobs. But something needed to be done. Trees had been disappearing in Koutal, and with them much else. “We didn’t even hear birds singing any more.” None of the women were familiar with the term “climate change”, but all affirmed that Koutal’s weather had worsened in recent years: persistent drought had dried and hardened the soil. It had also grown salty.

Although Koutal is 100km from the Atlantic, two inlets bring the sea inland to the village. “The Senegalese government lacks precise data on how much the sea has risen,” says Adama Kone, an agricultural extension agent, “but soil tests indicate that seawater has penetrated the underground fresh water table,” making it harder to grow crops. “Taste it,” said one woman, pressing her finger into the white earth. “You will see we are telling the truth.”

So, defying local stereotypes, the women of Koutal decided to fight for their village. With seedlings and technical expertise supplied by the Senegalese government and foreign donors, they spent six years transforming 290 hectares of land from bare, crusted soil into a thriving agro-forestry reserve. They now harvest timber to sell in local markets and grow millet and other crops to eat. Incomes and food production have risen substantially, and they look to the future with a new confidence. “We are very proud that our children will benefit from this land,” said Adam Ndiaye, a grandmother. “And they will know this work was done by women.”

The women didn’t know that by planting trees to save their village they were also building part of the Great Green Wall of Africa. At the moment, the wall is more vision than reality. But if it gets built, it could change Africa — a solid advance in the fight against climate change, and also poverty and hunger.

Africa will suffer first and worst

The famine in the Horn of Africa is the latest reminder of what scientists have been saying for years: Africa will suffer first and worst from the extra heat and drought from climate change over the coming decades. Famine is not the only reason that 750,000 people — half of them children — are likely to die in the Horn soon, according to the United Nations: Somalia, the epicentre of the famine, has been plagued by civil war and a non-functioning government for years. But this famine was brought to a head by the worst drought in 60 years, which has caused deprivation and hunger in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, both more stable countries.

With Africa projected to get even hotter and drier, the need to prepare seems obvious. So does the need for fresh approaches. Rather than dispatching emergency food aid (which lets western governments and citizens feel good about themselves but does little to address the root causes), are there solutions that will help Africans avoid dire circumstances?

That is one rationale for the Great Green Wall, an idea that was first proposed by Nigerian president Olesegun Obasanjo in 2005. Obasanjo’s vision was simple: he urged planting a 15km-wide strip of trees across Africa to prevent the Sahara desert from expanding southward as climate change intensified. From Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, this wall of trees would protect the densely populated Sahel region just south of the Sahara, where tens of millions of poor farmers and herders faced the hot, dry conditions plaguing Koutal.

African heads of state endorsed Obasanjo’s vision, and the idea gained international traction with the establishment of the Africa-European Union Partnership on Climate Change, which in 2007 adopted the plan, now known as the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative. “The Great Green Wall is an African-owned flagship initiative that will fight desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity and climate change while also tackling rural poverty and food insecurity,” says Professor Abdoulaye Dia, the CEO of the Pan-African Agency for the Great Green Wall.

’Give us the money, we’ll plant the trees’

But this initial vision has been criticised by scientists, NGOs and others who argue that it embodies a top-down approach that undervalues the importance of ecology and local people. What amounts to a vast tree plantation across thousands of miles of African drylands is bound to fail, the critics warn. Young trees need care to survive: watering, pruning, protection from animals. That means giving local people the incentive to provide such care, and irrigation facilities where there often is no water supply.

“There was a great razzmatazz in the 1970s around the same basic idea and it was a catastrophic failure,” said Dennis Garrity, director-general of the World Agroforestry Centre, ICRAF. “It sounded good to [African] heads of state and [the foreign aid that funded it] was a great money maker for the forestry departments of African governments. It was, ‘You give us the money, we’ll plant all the trees you need.’ So the forestry departments went out and planted millions of trees. And of course the vast majority of them soon died.”

Garrity wants a more metaphorical Great Green Wall that champions a grassroots-driven, science-based approach to environmental restoration and sustainable development. Tree planting remains central but integrated with local food production and livelihoods, as in Koutal. The goal would be to reverse land degradation as well as increase crop yields, rural incomes and food security. This vision would include a mosaic of projects throughout the Sahel, regardless of whether they lined up on a map to form a “wall”.

There are plenty of success stories a metaphorical Great Green Wall could draw upon. In Sustainable Land Management in Practice (1), the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation describes the re-greening of millions of acres in the Sahel by farmers who grow (not plant) trees that regenerate naturally among their crops. Garrity and his ICRAF colleagues call such techniques “evergreen agriculture”. In fact, growing trees interspersed with crops is an old practice in Africa; it fell out of favour with the arrival of modern farming from industrialised nations, but is now making a comeback. “Inter-cropping”, as modern agronomists call it, relies on trees and their leaves to maintain a green cover on cropland throughout the year; this improves the soil’s structure, fertility and capacity to absorb water.

Too good to fail

The Great Green Wall is too good an idea to be allowed to fail. But can its stakeholders — African and European governments, international development agencies, NGOs in Africa and Europe and ordinary Africans in whose name the idea is advocated — come together around a shared vision and a means of achieving it?

That question hovered over a conference this June in Dakar. The choice of venue was significant for Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, has long been an adamant supporter of the original Great Green Wall. (According to his former aide Dia, Wade named it.) If African heads of state still support Obasanjo’s original vision, western donors whose resources are needed to finance any Great Green Wall — the European Union, the Global Environmental Facility of the World Bank, the FAO — share the view that it is doomed to fail. There are also problems of organisation: three different African entities have claimed to lead the project: the Pan-African Agency, the African Union and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States.

Beyond the fear that Obasanjo’s literal vision of a Great Green Wall is likely to enrich African forestry departments more than local communities, it also turns out to rest on a basic scientific mistake. High-resolution satellite images captured by the US Geological Survey (USGS) show that the Sahara is not, in fact, advancing southward. Rather, says Gray Tappan of the USGS, the imagery shows that “there are many specific places where poor land management has led to severe land degradation.” This does not mean that a Great Green Wall is a bad idea — land degradation in the Sahel remains a serious problem — but it does imply that Garrity’s metaphorical vision is the better response. As Tappan says, “these blotches of degraded land are what need targeting, not the entire border of the Sahara and the Sahel.”

Dia, a geologist, understands the scientific arguments against the literal vision of the Great Green Wall. But to embrace such arguments would alienate his patron, Wade, and other heads of state. Dia tries to finesse the differing views, insisting: “We have one vision and one strategic approach.”

“There is a shadow play going on [at this conference],” said Garrity. “We don’t try to fight the battle of redefining the Great Green Wall, because the heads of state have already defined it. We’ve decided instead to go along with political realities in order to create an operational momentum that will allow for successful implementation of truly valuable land regeneration practices throughout the Sahel.” Let the politicians call it what they like, but let the rest of us start working on the ground, doing what science and practical experience have shown is best, and the results should prove themselves.

Mark Hertsgaard is a journalist and author of HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2011

(1) Sustainable Land Management in Practice, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rome, 2011.


By B.Raman

There have been four mass fatality attacks (with fatalities of more than 100 ) on Indian nationals or foreign nationals of Indian origin by terrorists enjoying sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. Three of these attacks carried out by jihadi terrorists were in Mumbai ( in March 1993,July 2006 and November 2008)and one involved the blowing-up of the Kanishka aircraft of Air India off the Irish coast in June 1985 by Khalistani terrorists.

2. The jihadi attacks in Mumbai were carried out by terrorists who came from sanctuaries and training camps of their organisations in Pakistani territory. Talwinder Singh Parmar of the Babbar Khalsa, who orchestrated the blowing-up of the Kanishka aircraft, came from Vancouver and took sanctuary in Pakistan after having the attack carried out. He was subsequently killed in August 1992 when he crossed over into Indian territory.

3.The two Indian masterminds of the March 1993 terrorist attack in Mumbai----Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon---- continue to live in Karachi without any action being taken against them by the Pakistani authorities. Those involved in the July 2006 terrorist attacks on suburban trains have not been definitively identified, but they are believed to have taken sanctuary with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in Pakistani territory. The LET masterminds of the November,2008 attacks---- all Pakistani nationals--- are still in Pakistani territory---some facing a make-believe trial and others untouched by the Pakistani authorities.

4. The potentially catastrophic attack on the Indian Parliament by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), with the suspected complicity of the LET, on December 13,2011,was designed to be a decapitation strike directed at India’s parliamentary leadership, but the alertness and bravery of the Indian security forces guarding the Parliament thwarted their designs. They were prevented from shooting their way into the Parliament and killed. There were no mass fatalities of civilians.

5.The capability of the terrorists to carry out repeated mass fatality attacks or potentially catastrophic attacks was facilitated by the connivance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and by the availability of sanctuaries and training facilities in Pakistani territory.

6.A repeatedly demonstrated lesson in the history of terrorism is that when terrorists operate with the complicity of a foreign intelligence agency from foreign sanctuaries it would not be possible to eliminate their terrorism unless the intelligence agency and/or the sanctuaries are targeted and irreparable damages are inflicted on them.

7.The US air strikes in Libya ordered by President Reagan in 1986 in retaliation for a bomb attack on US soldiers in Berlin was an example of a justified attack on a foreign State assisting terrorists. The US special forces attack in Abbottabad in Pakistan on May 2,2011, to kill Osama bin Laden was an example of an attack targeting sanctuaries and those given sanctuaries without targeting the State which provided sanctuary. The US has also been using its Drone (pilotless plane) strikes in North and South Waziristan as part of its counter-sanctuaries strategy.

8.Since the mass fatality attacks started in 1985, we have refrained from targeting either the State of Pakistan and its ISI or the terrorists and their sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. Even if we don’t want to exercise a counter-State policy against Pakistan, unless we exercise the counter-sanctuaries policy against the terrorist organisations and their sanctuaries in Pakistani territory, we will be destined to see a periodic recurrence of such attacks on our nationals.

9. There are two requirements for an effective counter-sanctuary strategy---- the political will to undertake targeted attacks against sanctuaries even at the risk of a possible military conflict with Pakistan and the clandestine capability called the covert action capability to translate the political will into action.

10. In India, we do not have either the political will or the covert action capability. Whatever limited covert action capability we had against Pakistan was ordered to be disbanded by Shri Inder Gujral when he was the Prime Minister in 1997. Neither Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, who succeeded him, nor Dr.Manmohan Singh have shown a willingness to order a re-creation of our covert action capability because they did not have the political courage to order its use against the sanctuaries.

11. The ISI as well as the terrorists sponsored by it know that India does not have a retaliatory covert action capability and that fear of a military conflict degenerating into a nuclear one has stymied Indian decision-making on the inclusion of a counter-sanctuary component into our counter-terrorism strategy.

12. The Indian State finds itself in a state of not having the required covert action capability to act against the sanctuaries and not having the political will and courage to use that capability even if we re-create it.

13. We will never be able to deal with mass fatality terrorism emanating from Pakistani territory unless we get out of this self-created and self-imposed paralysis of the will of the Indian State to act.

14. I am all for talks with Pakistan to improve our relations, but the talks must be accompanied by the will to act against the sanctuaries. Talking alone without demonstrating a will to act will prove counter-productive.

15.As we observe the 10th anniversary of the attack on the Parliament and pay homage to our brave security personnel who died to thwart the attack, it is this question-----the resuscitation of the national will to act as demonstrated by Indira Gandhi in 1971 and the re-creation of the covert action capability to translate that will into action--- that should engage our attention.

16. Instead of doing so, the entire focus has been on the perceived delay in the execution of Afzal Guru, an Indian national, who has been sentenced to death by the court for his complicity with the terrorists who came from the sanctuaries in Pakistan. His execution is not going to put an end to the sanctuaries in Pakistan. Only the iron fist of the Indian State will do so.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: .Twitter: @SOR

THE TURMOIL WITHIN: Pakistan’s future is causing concern all over the world

The Telegraph


- Pakistan’s future is causing concern all over the world
Kanwal Sibal

Pakistan’s future is raising concerns internationally. Can this nuclear-armed country step back from the brink by radically changing its internal and external outlook? Pakistan cannot break its Islamic links as it came into being because of Islam. But must it discard the relatively softer face of Islam that connects it to its Indian subcontinental roots and embrace more extremist Islamist ideologies? Externally, can it eliminate the debilitating anti-India toxin that has entered its political veins since its birth and, instead of permanently confronting India, explore cooperative bonds with it?

Pakistan has been in turmoil since its creation. It has had several constitutions, its political system has remained weak and several bouts of military rule have altered it. Its political leaders have been assassinated, hanged, mysteriously eliminated, exiled or killed in terrorist attacks.

Pakistan’s obsession about parity with India distorted its priorities from the beginning. For geographic parity, it has worked for India’s break-up, as it believes India to be a product of British colonialism rather than in possession of any organic unity historically. Kashmir’s separation was supposed to begin the unravelling of India. Pakistan’s ambitions in Kashmir have continued to drive its political, economic, religious and security calculus.

Economically, Pakistan aspired to reach parity in performance, not size. For a while it did well and even mocked at India’s poverty levels. But a smaller economic base, excessive reliance on agriculture and textiles, a neglect of industrial development, a dysfunctional educational system and too much reliance on foreign doles have resulted in the economic crisis it faces today.

What it could more purposefully achieve in the background of its martial illusions was military parity. It has, therefore, overarmed itself all these years by propagating an imaginary Indian threat, with infusions of military assistance from abroad. It has achieved nuclear parity; its nuclear arsenal is expanding even as concerns about transfers of nuclear material to extremist groups within its territory grow.
With a lopsided emphasis on defence, Pakistan’s armed forces have acquired a disproportionate weight within the system, stunting democracy, monopolizing a major portion of the national budget, becoming the principal interlocutors of foreign powers, assuming control of the country’s foreign policy in principal areas, and periodically ruling the country directly.
This anti-democratic conduct of the armed forces has forced them to seek some degree of popular legitimacy by reaching out to extremist religious groups which are, in any case, ideologically opposed to democracy.

A highly toxic product of military rule, via encouragement given to extremist religious groups and anti-Indianism, is terrorism, which Pakistan has used as an instrument of State policy for years. By describing terrorists as freedom fighters any moral compunction associated with such reprehensible conduct at State level has been obfuscated.

For long the United States of America and others overlooked this dangerous conduct by the Pakistani State, as Pakistan was too willing to do the US’s bidding and India too unwilling to do so. This tolerance was a bonus for Pakistan and a sanction against India.

For years, until 9/11 happened under the watch of the Taliban set up in Kabul with Pakistan’s support, Pakistan was shielded from international repercussions for promoting terror. It then came under US pressure to control these groups, including those targeting India, less out of any sympathy for India than out of concerns about India-Pakistan tensions distracting attention from the US’s need to obtain Pakistan’s fuller cooperation in fighting al Qaida and other extremists in Afghanistan, and later in Pakistan itself.

Pakistan is now caught in a double bind. It is embroiled in Afghanistan because of its strategic ambitions there, and is not yet ready to extricate itself from its self-destructive confrontation with India. The use of terrorists for political purposes with external aims cannot but have internal repercussions, for the political and legal system in the country, not to mention its moral fibre, gets extremely coarsened.

Pakistan is a unique state, in that no other state uses terrorism so openly and in such an organized manner against another state. And this country, instead of qualifying as a rogue state, is a non-Nato strategic ally of the US.
What is the totality of Pakistan’s condition today? It is wracked internally by terrorism, religious extremism is pushing it towards social and legal regression as the assassinations of the erstwhile governor of Punjab and the minority affairs minister dramatize. The space for moderate elements in the country is lessening.
Pakistan’s economy is stagnant; its low economic growth is a recipe for more trouble ahead. Its relationship with the US has come under severe strain as its duplicitous policies and its two-faced approach to terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere have been exposed.

Its nuclear status is engendering concern not only because of fears of extremists getting access to nuclear material, but also because elements in the armed forces, especially in the navy and the air force, are becoming more and more Islamist.
Pakistan’s sovereignty is being violated regularly, partly by consent and partly as a reaction to its unwillingness to act against the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani group. Pakistan faces an acute dilemma. If it cooperates more with the Americans it earns the ire of the local jihadi groups and the anti-American Pakistani public is further angered; if it resists cooperating with the Americans, it comes under pressure with threats of curtailment of US military and economic aid.
How should India deal with a Pakistan in turmoil? The romantics in India never lose faith in the possibility of friendship with Pakistan. To that end they will advocate the proposition of an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue with Pakistan, one that removes any pretence of a link between dialogue and terrorism and therefore suits Pakistan. This is why its neophyte foreign minister has begun touting the same phraseology.

Pakistan’s relations with India have become less volatile in recent months largely because of the Indian government’s extraordinarily soft approach. India will have another round of a composite dialogue with Pakistan; it is reconciled to Pakistani prevarications on justice for the Mumbai attack. Our approach seems to be that if our reasonable demands are not met, the demands should be dropped. We seek to deblock situations by exploring concessions.

We have lifted our objections to World Trade Organization-violative concessions by the European Union to Pakistan in the textile sector. At the recent summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in the Maldives, we have promised a preferential trade agreement with Pakistan even though it continues to exclude India from the South Asian Free Trade Area. Pakistan’s backtracking on the granting of the most favoured nation status to India has not discouraged us from making ill-timed gestures and losing bargaining leverage unnecessarily. What diplomatic purpose is served by praising the prime minister of a country most hostile to us as a man of peace, particularly as he is in no position to deliver peace to us?

The way Pakistan deals with its ally and benefactor, the US, despite the immense disparity in their respective powers, the overall texture of the relationship and the pragmatic calculations of gain and loss that Pakistan undoubtedly makes, should be instructive for India. Those who deal with friends with such calculation and cynicism cannot be expected to deal with adversaries with sincerity.
The author is former foreign secretary of India

What is Laissez-Faire?

The Daily Reckoning Presents

Jeffrey Tucker The latest data show that book sales are way up this season. So much for the prediction that books will be killed by technology. On the contrary, technology has enabled the great literature of the ages and the present to be put in the hands of everyone. I can’t think of a better time to begin refurbishing Laissez-Faire Books (founded in 1972), because it is the market that laissez-faire celebrates that has made all the literature we love more accessible than ever.

Addison Wiggin, president of Agora Financial, and I were discussing the various challenges ahead of us as we infuse new life into an old and venerable institution. He drew my attention to a point that I’ve overlooked. Most people don’t know the term “laissez-faire.” They don’t know how to say it (that very day, I was introduced for a speech, and the host mispronounced it) and they don’t know what it means. Once in common circulation, this term has not been in common use, even in libertarian circles. So we have some work to do, in helping people even understand the name of the bookstore at

The pronunciation in English is lay-say-fair. Its French origins date back to the late Renaissance. As the story goes, it was first used about the year 1680, a time when the nation-state was on the rise throughout Europe. The French finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, asked a merchant named M. Le Gendre what the state could do to promote industry.

According to legend, the reply came: “Laissez-nous faire,” or “let it be.” This incident was reported in 1751 in the Journal Oeconomique by the free-trade champion Rene de Voyer, Marquis d’Argenson. The slogan was codified finally in the words of Vincent de Gournay: “Laissez-faire et laissez-passer, le monde va de lui même!” The loose translation: “Let it be and let goods pass; the world goes by itself.”

We’ve rendered this in the form you see on our masthead: Leave the world alone, it manages itself. You could shorten it: Let it be.

All these renderings express not only the idea of free trade — a main subject of dispute in 18th-century European politics — but also a larger and more-beautiful vision of the way society can be permitted to work.

This idea can be summed up in the phrase “laissez-faire,” or in the doctrine of what was once called simply liberalism, which today is clarified as classical liberalism. This idea is this: Society contains within itself the capacity for ordering and managing its own path of development. It follows that people should enjoy the liberty to manage their own lives, associate as they please, exchange with anyone and everyone, own and accumulate property and otherwise be unencumbered by state expansion into their lives.

In the centuries that have followed, millions of great thinkers and writers have elaborated on this core idea within all disciplines of the social science. Then as now, there stand two broad schools of thought: those who believe in state control of one or many aspects of the social order and those who believe that such attempts at control are counterproductive to the cause of prosperity, justice, peace and the building of the civilized life.

These two ways of thinking are different from what is called the right and the left today. The left is inclined to think that if we let the economic sphere be free, the world will collapse, which advances some theory of the disaster that would befall us all without government control. The right is similarly convinced that the state is necessary lest the world collapse into violent, warring, culture-destroying gangs.

The laissez-faire view rejects both views in favor of what Claude Frédéric Bastiat called “the harmony of interests” that make up the social order. It is the view that the artists, merchants, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and property owners — and not the cartelizing thugs of the state — ought to be permitted to drive the course of history.

This view is now held by millions of thinkers around the world. It is the most exciting intellectual movement today, and in places where we might least expect to find it. There are institutions in every country devoted to the idea. Blogs and forums are everywhere dedicated to the conviction. Books are pouring out by the week and the day. The revolt against the state is growing.

The growth of the idea of laissez-faire in our times is infused by a digital energy. But the idea itself is not new in world history. Though it is mostly associated with 18th-century British thought, it is a view of society that has much-deeper roots in the Christian Middle Ages and early Jewish thought. Nor is laissez-faire somehow a Western idea alone. The deepest roots of laissez-faire actually trace to ancient China, and even today, the thoughts of the masters offer a fine summary.

Here are some examples:

Lao Tzu (6th century B.C.): “The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished...The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be...”

“The Sage says: ‘I take no action, yet the people transform themselves, I favor quiescence and the people right themselves, I take no action and the people enrich themselves...’”

Chuang Tzu (369-286 B.C.): “I would rather roam and idle about in a muddy ditch, at my own amusement, than to be put under the restraints that the ruler would impose. I would never take any official service, and thereby I will [be free] to satisfy my own purposes.”

“There has been such thing as letting mankind alone; there has never been such a thing as governing mankind [with success].” The world “does simply not need governing; in fact, it should not be governed.”

Pao Ching-yen (4th century A.D.): “Where knights and hosts could not be assembled, there was no warfare afield...Ideas of using power for advantage had not yet burgeoned. Disaster and disorder did not occur...People munched their food and disported themselves; they were carefree and contented.”

Ssu-ma Ch’ien (145-90 B.C.): “Each man has only to be left to utilize his own abilities and exert his strength to obtain what he wishes...When each person works away at his own occupation and delights in his own business, then like water flowing downward, goods will naturally flow ceaseless day and night without being summoned, and the people will produce commodities without having been asked.”

These early beginnings of the idea began here but can be traced through thinkers of ancient Greece and Rome and through the Middle Ages, until the notion swept the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, giving rise to unheard-of prosperity, liberty and peace for all. In the 18th century and in large parts of the world (other than the English-speaking world), laissez-faire has been called liberalism or classical liberalism, a doctrine of social organization that can be summed up in the words of Lord Acton: Liberty is the highest political end of humankind.

To be sure, the notion of liberalism was already corrupted early in the 20th century. As Ludwig von Mises wrote in his book Liberalism (1929), “The world today wants to hear no more of liberalism. Outside England, the term ‘liberalism’ is frankly proscribed. In England, there are, to be sure, still ‘liberals,’ but most of them are so in name only. In fact, they are rather moderate socialists. Everywhere today, political power is in the hands of the anti- liberal parties.”

That remains true today. And the revolt against this is often termed “libertarian,” a word that has long been associated with a primary concern for human liberty. In current understanding, it refers to a tightening and radicalizing of the old liberal view. It asserts the inviolability of property rights, the primacy of peace in world affairs and the centrality of free association and trade in the conduct of human affairs. It differs from the old liberal view in dispensing the naive view that the state can be limited by law and constitutions; it imagines the possibility that society can manage itself without a state, defined as the one institution in society that is permitted the legal right of aggression against person and property. Libertarians are consistently against war, protectionism, taxation, inflation and any laws that interfere with the right of free association.

Libertarianism came of age in the early 1970s with the writings of Murray Rothbard and, later, with the founding of Laissez-Faire Books and the work of Robert Nozick and Tibor Machan. Libertarians are not necessarily anarchists or anarcho-capitalists, but the main strain of thinking in the libertarian world today revolves around the idea of statelessness as an intellectual benchmark. This view is not utopian or far-flung; it is only the hope for an ideal in which theft, murder, kidnapping and counterfeiting are not legally sanctioned by the state.

Nor is such a society historically unprecedented. Rothbard wrote about Colonial America as an example of a wildly successful experiment of society without a central state. Medieval Europe made the first great economic revolution without recourse to the power of the nation-state. David Friedman has documented anarchism and competitive legal orders in medieval Iceland. Other writers go so far as to say that given how we conduct our lives day to day, relying on the productivity of private institutions and associations, we never really leave anarchy.

As Mises says, liberalism/libertarianism/laissez-faire is not a completed doctrine. There are so many areas remaining to be explored and so many applications to make both in history and in our time. The most-exciting books of our time are being written from the vantage point of human liberty. The state is on the march, but the resistance is growing.

It is my great honor to be involved in the Agora effort to revive Laissez-Faire Books as the international distribution and publishing house for the greatest ideas of our time. It is a debilitating thing to watch the state on the march, but it is a source of joy to know that ideas are more powerful than all the armies of the world. Reason, literacy and relentless work for what is right and true will eventually lead the idea of laissez-faire to victory.


Jeffrey Tucker
for The Daily Reckoning

Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, Part 1


Editor's Note: Though this article was originally published in October 2009, the ongoing debate over Iran's capabilities and intentions gives lasting relevance to the analysis within. Media reports continue to focus on efforts to disrupt Tehran's efforts to construct nuclear weapons, but the international community has a much greater strategic interest in ensuring the flow of oil through the Iranian-controlled Strait of Hormuz.

It has often been said that Iran’s “real nuclear option” is its ability to close — or at least try to close — the Strait of Hormuz, which facilitates the movement of 90 percent of the Persian Gulf’s oil exports (40 percent of the global seaborne oil trade) as well as all of the gulf’s liquefied natural gas exports. At a time when the world is crawling back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, this is a serious threat and warrants close examination.

Iran actually has a broad range of military options for lashing out at energy exports in the strait, and this is not a new development. Almost since the founding days of the Islamic republic, Iran has been exercising military force in the Persian Gulf, starting with attacks against Iraqi tankers (and Kuwaiti tankers carrying Iraqi oil) during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. But in all this time, Iran has never exercised the full measure of its capability to close the Strait of Hormuz to maritime commerce — if indeed it has that capability. Although Iran has an array of options for limited strikes, our interests here are the dynamics of an all-out effort.

Deterrence and the Potential for Conflict

Tehran has long been aware of the geostrategic significance of its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz. The threat of mining the strait or targeting tankers with anti-ship missiles is a central component of Iran’s defensive strategy. By holding the strait at risk, Tehran expands the consequences of any military action against it to include playing havoc with global oil prices. Insofar as Iran has avoided military action to date, this strategy of deterrence to this point can be deemed a success.

Yet the strategy has several weaknesses. For one, it can only discourage an attack, not directly prevent one. By the time an attack against Iran begins, Tehran’s military strategy has failed. Trying to close the strait after military strikes have begun cannot stop those strikes — it can only serve as a punitive measure. At best, an Iranian concession to stop its actions in the strait could serve as a card on the table in negotiating a cease-fire. But creating trouble in the strait is a hard sell internationally as a “defensive” measure. With the world just starting to recover from the global economic crisis, a move by Iran to close the strait could unite the world against Iran — perhaps more strongly than was the case against Iraq following Desert Storm in 1991.

Another weakness has to do with one of the classic problems of nuclear deterrence — the military incentive to strike first. In this case, the United States would very much want to leverage the element of surprise, catching and hitting as many targets as possible — not just the nuclear program but also Iran’s offensive and defensive military capabilities — where it expects those targets to be. The flip side, of course, is that Iran also needs the element of surprise. Because high-priority targets in any U.S. airstrike would include Iran’s capabilities to retaliate directly — its anti-ship missile sites, its mine warfare facilities, its ballistic missile arsenal — any retaliation by Iran after an American strike begins would be degraded, perhaps considerably, depending on the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence (Iran presents considerable intelligence problems for the United States).

As a result, while Iran’s deterrence strategy has thus far delayed conflict, a line can be crossed that puts everything on its head. Instead of delaying matters further, each side will have more incentive to act aggressively in order to pre-empt the other. And the problem is not simply that this line exists. The line is defined for each side by its subjective, fallible perceptions of the other’s intentions, leaving considerable room for miscalculation.

So, despite the considerable disincentives for Iran to try and close the strait, it can hardly be ruled out. Indeed, at the moment, with so much in motion politically, not just between Washington and Tehran but also between Washington and Moscow — and factoring in the Israeli wild card — the risks of miscalculation on all sides are very high.

The Strait of Hormuz

Connecting the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the world’s oceans, the navigable waters of the Strait of Hormuz are roughly 20 miles wide at their narrowest point. Commercial and naval maritime traffic, which includes 16 or 17 million barrels of crude oil aboard some 15 tankers per day, transits two designated shipping lanes inside Omani waters. Each lane (one into the Gulf, one out) is two miles wide and is separated by a two mile-wide buffer. (Almost the entire strait south of Qeshm and Larak islands is deep enough to support tanker traffic, so there is certainly room to shift the traffic further from the Iranian coast.) The importance of this waterway to both American military and economic interests is difficult to overstate. Considering Washington’s more general — and fundamental — interest in securing freedom of the seas, the U.S. Navy would almost be forced to respond aggressively to any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz.
Map of the Strait of Hormuz
Tehran appreciates not only its strategic proximity to the strait but also the asymmetric military options related to it. A conventional interdiction in the strait by Iranian surface warships and submarines is perhaps the least likely scenario. Larger corvettes and frigates are few in number and would be easily targeted by U.S. naval and air power that is constantly within striking distance of the strait. While up to two of Iran’s three Russian-built Kilo-class submarines could probably be sortied on short notice, the cramped and shallow waters of the strait make submarine operations there particularly challenging.

The challenges mean that the proficiency of Iranian submarine crews (questionable at best) would likely be severely tested in a genuine operational scenario. The United States also recognizes Iran’s Kilos as an important Iranian asset and would make every effort to quickly neutralize them (whether at sea or in port) in any attack scenario. In any event, the Iranian navy does not have enough Kilos to have any confidence in its ability to sustain submarine operations for any meaningful period after hostilities began.

Well aware of its qualitative weaknesses vis-a-vis the U.S. Navy, Iran has a number of more asymmetric options. The most “conventional” of these are its fast attack missile boats, particularly 10 French-built Kaman guided missile patrol craft (Iran has begun to build copies domestically, though the first three appear to have been built in the Caspian). Smaller than a corvette, each of these boats has a medium-caliber naval gun and two to four anti-ship missiles. These very vessels comprised some of the most active Iranian naval units in the Iran-Iraq War. Although the U.S.-built Harpoon anti-ship missiles with which they were originally equipped appear to have all been expended during that conflict, the missile boats have reportedly been equipped with Chinese-built C-802 anti-ship missiles, which are based on the U.S. Harpoon and French Exocet designs. Employed in a surprise strike, these missile boats could score some early hits on traffic in the strait.

Even with the fast missile boats, however, there is still the issue of port dependence and vulnerability. Iran’s conventional navy, of which the fast attack missile boats are a part, would have to leave port immediately to avoid destruction alongside the pier — particularly challenging if the U.S. struck first. Of course, due to superior American naval and air power, Iran’s ships and subs — including the fast missile boats — wouldn’t be much safer at sea. Even if the missile boats succeeded in surviving long enough to expend their ordnance, they wouldn’t have a port to return to capable of rearming them.

Iran, however, has other asymmetrical tricks up its sleeve.