Saturday, April 2, 2016

Five Reflections on China, Russia and the US: Problems and Perspectives (II)

Five Reflections on China, Russia and the US: Problems and Perspectives (II)
AUGUSTO SOTO | 02.04.2016 | WORLD See Part I

Brussels, Europe’s political and defense headquarter, hit by the Islamic State (ISIS) in spite of months of the highest antiterrorist surveillance is not an «existential threat», according to Obama, but Russia and China, highlights US Secretary of State Ashton Carter, are. The statement brings to the fore the evolving issue of security to the Beijing-Moscow-US triangle.
Carter declared on March 17 that conflict with Russia over Ukraine (framed as «Russian aggression in Eastern Europe»), and the South China disputes (framed as «Asia Pacific»), are the most important threats which are «evolving» and demand a «long view». According to Carter to face these challenges the defense budget for the fiscal year 2017 should total $582.7 billion ($523.9 billion in the base budget), and $58.8 billion should be given to the overseas contingency operations fund. The priorities are practically the same as the ones defined by influential former Bush’s CIA and NSA chief, General Hayden, also in March. That means preparedness to fight both conventional and nuclear war in tune with outdated Truman doctrine, George Kennan’s famous telegram, and old arms race hardest logic of confrontation. Nevertheless, the absurd is not just in its boomerang likely consequences (it will further degrade US power). This wrong policy also shows its blindness to the nature of power, which over the last decade shows signs of transformation, from states to non-state actors, from institutions to networks.
Why? Washington’s rationale
First. Unrealistic. The complexity of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels should be reason enough for the US to facilitate deeper engagement with Europe, Russia and China on security issues, instead of confrontation in Eastern Europe and Asia. The recent extermination of two top ISIS leaders and US limited action on the ground in Iraq do not match the urgency of the problem of terrorism, which in its worse scenario still has a potential to disrupt the global economy. States like China and Russia, that share highest and most accepted values and principles of contemporary times, who are fellow members at the United Nation’s Security Council, possessing highly organized political bureaucracies, refined diplomatic corps and that are signatories of the key agreements with the US and in every continent, are apparently considered to be equally or more dangerous than al-Qaida or ISIS networks – modern fanatical utopian offering unrealistic caliphate and destruction.
Second. Timely. It seems that for US hawkish views the situation favors big planning. Europe is not overshadowing US power in power indicators anymore. It is a continent suffering an important political crisis with a Brexit ad portas, with Brussels giving the impression that it is the capital of a failed State. Furthermore, fragmented Middle East is becoming a European problem of still uncertain consequences. We read analysis concluding that ISIS is getting deadlier in Europe as it loses territories in Syria and Iraq, a kind of protracted although manageable crisis for a Washington hawkish establishment to relatively disengage from in order to concentrate on the strongest contention of Russia and China.
Third. From macro-regional Manicheism to global change? Former US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s democratic transformation plans from Afghanistan to Maghreb once proven empty and unrealistic talk are giving way to other forms of supremacy. Tellingly enough, strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski reminded his audience from his twitter account on March 20 that «While smart to avoid precipitating another conflict, Obama ignores the reality that a US president is inevitably a promoter of global change». And that sort of change entails potential clash with adversarial or reluctant big powers. It is actually a bipartisan permanent latent choice to be tested by reality during the next US administration.
Fourth. Of course, the needs of an updated arsenal. The US is reinvigorating its industrial traditional strategy for recycling and developing weapons in the best tradition of the industrial-military complex, which needs first-class enemies to properly calibrate the systems and doctrine currently facing symmetry and asymmetry.
Also, among US military and akin Asia Pacific strategists there are growing views favorable (or implicitly favorable) to the justification of different kinds of military upgrades in order to counter supposed gaps of the American arsenal, including systems to detect Chinese submarines, ways to neutralize missiles or a combined Chinese reaction in the South China Sea theater.
Recent moves from Beijing and Moscow
Fifth. The answer to the challenges posed by Washington is called resilience. Beijing and Moscow have been acting accordingly for some time already, trying to avoid immediate strategic traps while diversifying partners and taking initiatives. China is adopting a series of «sand wall» defensive measures in the South China Sea based on a strong sovereignty stance.
For its part, beyond the Ukraine crisis circumscribed to Europe, Moscow is showing that it is not the alienated political mammoth often the West likes to see, but opposite. The Kremlin is clearly pursuing flexibility, as most of its forces pulling out from Syria show. Putin does not want to risk unnecessarily bogging down in the Middle East or find itself chronically exposed to explosive Middle East events.
On the other side, it is true that to a certain extent China sees the Ukraine-Russia crisis as a strategic situation in the sense similar to how 9/11 events accidentally supported Chinese interests, when George W Bush administration wanted to contain China but ended up in Afghanistan and Iraq, avoiding encirclement in Asia.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian crisis has accelerated Russia’s Asia foreign policy pursuit for stronger ties with a number of states, including Vietnam, India and Japan, countries with difficult relations with China, with Moscow being Vietnam’s key supplier of military equipment.
It is true that while Moscow has come closer to East Asia, Beijing has also become closer to Eastern European countries. But the policy has not generated frictions between both powers. Actually as 16+1 framework shows, updated by recent Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to the Czech Republic in March, Beijing’s Eastern European strategy entails commercial infrastructure projects in tune with Beijing’s Belt and Silk Road policy (with Moscow’s support). It represents a peaceful pivot to the West in sharp contrast with Obama’s pivot to Asia based on military deployment.
China’s and Russia’s security strategies and balancing acts take place against the backdrop of Washington’s attempts to use force in geopolitics. So far US administrations have shown ambiguous strategy facing terrorist networks and a stunning capacity to generate disturbance with major powers. It is a perverse cycle. Probably nations worldwide continue to see Washington pretty much like the famous 2014 Gallup’s poll of opinion showed. It concluded then that the US is perceived as the greatest threat to world peace. It is time to change.

Five Reflections on China, Russia and the US: Problems and Perspectives (I)

Five Reflections on China, Russia and the US: Problems and Perspectives (I)
AUGUSTO SOTO | 26.03.2016 | WORLD

This year Moscow and Beijing celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation signed in 2001, just a few months before the September 11, a Eurasian geopolitics watershed leading to the peak and subsequent declining of US power. Ever since China and Russia have been actively contributing to a multipolar world which right now is at a dramatic juncture.
Facts point towards closer Russia-China ties
This year’s Vladimir Putin’s 10th visit to China will probably mark a new milestone in bilateral ties in which Xi Jinping is the leader whose first visit abroad was not to the US, but to Russia. Unlike during Cold War, facts not ideology have brought closer ties in both countries much aligned in worldviews. It includes common perspectives on sovereignty, the use of force, the role of Washington in the world, and the present and future of the international system.
At the same time, since 1991 Russia is seen by Beijing as an important supplier of military equipment and energy resources. By the end of 2015 Russia announced the selling of 24 Su-35 fighters (its most high-tech aircraft on sale) worth $ 2 billion to China (to be delivered over the next two years). For its part, on March 3 the Bank of China extended a €2 billion credit line to Russia's Gazprom for a 5-year period, defined as the biggest direct transaction from a credit organization, and the first bilateral credit agreement with a Chinese bank. No matter how much suspicion and doubts international analysts cast on the long-term trust levels between both countries (a redundant speculation for the present and foreseeable future), Putin has insisted in calling the excellent status of these ties as «unprecedented in history», and most recently, in mid-March, Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang defined them as an «all-dimensional relationship».
Is it a convenient close relationship? Undoubtedly.
First. Unique interrelatedness. Both powers are neighboring countries (each one is the other’s biggest neighbor along the 3,645 km of common frontier); they are members of major power √©lite (both are nuclear states with permanent United Nations Security Council’s seats); they are members of BRICS; and they belong to such international institutions as SCO, G20, OBOR and AIIB.
Second. China and Russia embody a necessary touch of realism on the international arena, a condition transcending utopian approaches supposed to solve problems worldwide, often through fictional democracy and American traditional interventionism. For unlike Thomas Friedman’s theory stating that «the world is flat», actually it is not. Russia and China are paradigmatic countries with complex and rich histories in managing land, demography, with distance and resources at a unique scale. China is the most populated country in the history of the mankind with the biggest economy, and Russia is the largest state with the most abundant natural resources. They have both been invaded several times in their respective pasts, they have negotiated with different powers at least over a millennium in a way the US has not (and also more than the EU, which as such is a relatively new organization in history). Russia and China challenges and travails in their own developing and their security experience should be studied in-depth by both underdeveloped and developed nations. In other words, and as a result of the abovementioned, both countries know well that although technology and democratic values are valuable, there are not magic solutions per se. Let’s just think of the persistence of the burka in Afghanistan (whose 2001 invasion was explained to Western public opinion as a «liberation» war, including the abolishment of burka). Or let’s think of the Arab banking system called hawala that operates beyond international banking control and is able of mobilize immeasurable amounts of money with geopolitical consequences.
Third. Russia and China are Eurasian powers behaving accordingly. China’s OBOR main routes blueprint includes Moscow, Teheran, Almaty, Samarkand, Athens, Istanbul, Duisburg, Rotterdam as nodal points coupled in the near future with a high-speed train network reinforcing Russia in similar ways as it is reinforcing China’s comprehensive network; Yiwu-Madrid train (known as Yixinou), crisscrossing Eurasia between China and Spain just turned one year old; Russia’s Siberian energy network (developed and to be developed) is both European and Asia oriented; both capitals played a decisive role in the Iranian nuclear settlement last July and are now actively calling for resuming the Six-Party Talks to reach a deal meaning more predictability and stability in the Korean Peninsula. It is worth remembering that Beijing and Moscow are de facto leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) whose latest progressive enlargement milestone, last July, included India and Pakistan in the accession process, plus the observing status for Belarus, and the upgrading of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, and Nepal into dialogue partners status.
Fourth. For the time being and significantly enough, the EU has managed (by inaction) to position itself almost as a peripheral geopolitical corner of Eurasia, as the reactionary joint position on the refugee crisis that led to a deal reached with Turkey in March shows together with its conformist politics in Syria, the Middle East and Central Asia. By some of their combined action Russia and China could produce a positive reaction from the disconcerted and defensive Europe in order to regain assertiveness. After all, successive US administrations have certainly shown once and again that in fact they are not interested in the formation of neither a strong Europe nor an integrated and prosperous Eurasia.
Fifth. An increasing abyss in values and security visions between the US and the EU is in the making, and it matters very much to China and Russia as part of their long-term analysis of the Northern Hemisphere future. Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia jihadist forms of terrorism will continue to disrupt life. If one is to look at the sophistication of methods and techniques used by the jihadist leader just detained in Brussels last weekend accused of the massacre in Paris last November, one will realize the urgent need for the broadest coordination possible. The case enlightens the absurdities of the current Cold War-like rearmament led by Washington. The ISIS that seemed contained, is mutating into a deadly terrorist force able to strike Eurasia in terribly sophisticated ways. Nevertheless, according to a powerful current of thought in the US establishment such a possibility does not represent an existential threat. The implications of that view represent a threat to Russia and China since that emergent doctrine is most likely to be favored by Hillary Clinton once she wins the presidential US race.               

"How US-Backed War on Syria Helped ISIS" D.Lazare consortium news

How US-Backed War on Syria Helped ISIS
EDITOR'S CHOICE | 02.04.2016

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace)
Why are Islamic militants wreaking havoc from Brussels to Lahore? The best way to answer this question is by taking a close look at how The New York Times covered this weekend’s liberation of Palmyra from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State.
The article, entitled “Syrian Troops Said to Recapture Historic Palmyra From ISIS,” began on a snide note. While the victory may have netted Bashar al-Assad “a strategic prize,” reporters Hwaida Saad and Kareem Fahim wrote that it also provided the Syrian president with “something more rare: a measure of international praise.”
The article noted that “Mr. Assad’s contention that his government is a bulwark against the transnational extremist group” has been bolstered, but added that “his foes and some allies argue that he must leave power as part of a political settlement to end the war in Syria” – without, of course, specifying who those allies might be.
Then it offered a bit of background: “Lost in the celebrations was a discussion of how Palmyra had fallen in the first place. When the Islamic State captured the city in May [2015], the militants faced little resistance from Syrian troops. At the time, residents said officers and militiamen had fled into orchards outside the city, leaving conscripted soldiers and residents to face the militants alone.”
Since the Times claims to have “several hundred” surreptitious contacts inside Syria, the charge that Assad’s troops fled without a fight may conceivably be correct. But it’s hard to square with reports that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) had to battle for seven or eight days before entering the city and then had to deal with a counter-offensive on the city’s outskirts. But even if true, it’s only part of the story and a small one at that.
The real story began two months earlier when Syrian rebels launched a major offensive in Syria’s northern Idlib province with heavy backing from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Led by Al Nusra, the local Al Qaeda affiliate, but with the full participation of U.S.-backed rebel forces, the assault proved highly successful because of the large numbers of U.S.-made optically guided TOW missiles supplied by the Saudis. [See’s “Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda.”]
The missiles gave the rebels the edge they needed to destroy dozens of government tanks and other vehicles according to videos posted on social media websites. Indeed, one pro-U.S. commander told The Wall Street Journal that the TOWs completely “flipped the balance of power,” enabling the rebels to dislodge the Syrian army’s heavily dug-in forces and drive them out of town. Although the government soon counter-attacked, Al Nusra and its allies continued to advance to the point where they posed a direct threat to the Damascus regime’s stronghold in Latakia province 50 or 60 miles to the west.
Official Washington was jubilant. “The trend lines for Assad are bad and getting worse,” a senior official crowed a month after the offensive began. The Times happily observed that “[t]he Syrian Army has suffered a string of defeats from re-energized insurgents… [which] raise newly urgent questions about the durability of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.”
Assad was on the ropes, or so everyone said. Indeed, ISIS thought so as well, according to the Associated Press, which is why it decided that the opportunity was ripe to launch an offensive of its own 200 miles or so to the southeast. Worn-out and depleted after four years of civil war, the Syrian Arab Army retreated before the onslaught.
But considering the billions of dollars that the U.S. and Saudis were pouring into the rebel forces, blaming Damascus for not putting up a stiffer fight is a little like beating up a 12-year-old girl and then blaming her for not having a better right hook.
So the U.S. and its allies helped Islamic State by tying down Assad’s forces in the north so that it could punch through in the center. But that’s not all the U.S. did. It also helped by suspending bombing as the Islamic State neared Palmyra.
As the Times put it at the time: “Any airstrikes against Islamic State militants in and around Palmyra would probably benefit the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. So far, United States-led airstrikes in Syria have largely focused on areas far outside government control, to avoid the perception of aiding a leader whose ouster President Obama has called for.”
The upshot was a clear message to ISIS to the effect that it had nothing to worry about from U.S. jet bombers as long as it engaged Assad’s troops in close combat. The U.S. thus incentivized ISIS to press forward with the assault. Although residents later wondered why the U.S. had not bombed ISIS forces “while they were traversing miles of open desert roads,” the answer, simply, is that Washington had other things on its mind. Rather than defeating ISIS, it preferred to use it to accomplish its primary goal, which was driving out Assad.
The Blowback
But what does this have to do with Brussels and Lahore? Simply that America’s fundamental ambivalence toward ISIS, Al Qaeda, and similar groups — its policy of battling them on one hand and seeking to make use of them on the other — is what allows Sunni terrorism to fester and grow.
The administration is shocked, SHOCKED, when Islamists kill innocent people in Belgium but not when they kill innocent people in Syria. This is why the White House long regarded ISIS as a lesser threat: because it thought its violence would remain safely contained.
“Where Al Qaeda’s principal ambition is to launch attacks against the West and U.S. homeland,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes explained in August 2014, “ISIL’s primary focus is consolidating territory in the Middle East region to establish their own Islamic State.”
Since the only people in harm’s way were Syrians, there was no cause for alarm. The rest of the world could relax.
Hence the confusion when ISIS did the unexpected by striking out at Western targets after all. As the Times observed in a major takeout this week on Islamic State’s Western operations, officials were slow to connect the dots because Euro-terrorism was not supposed to be ISIS’s thing: “Even as the group began aggressively recruiting foreigners, especially Europeans, policymakers in the United States and Europe continued to see it as a lower-profile branch of Al Qaeda that was mostly interested in gaining and governing territory.”
Turkish officials made essentially the same point last week in response to widespread complaints that they have done little to prevent Sunni terrorists from making their way to Syria. Not so, they countered. When they tried to return the jihadis from whence they came, they found that members of the European Union were none too eager to have them.
“We were suspicious that the reason they want these people to come is because they don’t want them in their own countries,” a senior Turkish security official told the London Guardian. Instead, they preferred to see them continue on their way. And why not? At home, they would only cause trouble, whereas in Syria they would advance Western interests by waging war against Assad’s Baathist government.
Thus, Brussels was unresponsive when Turkish officials informed it that they had detained a Belgian citizen named Ibrahim el-Bakraoui in the border town of Gaziantep on suspicion of traveling to Syria to join the jihad. The Turks deported him anyway, but the Belgians remained unconcerned until El-Bakraoui turned up among the suicide bombers at Zaventem airport.
The same thing happened when the Turks intercepted a Syria-bound French national named Omar Ismail Mostefai. Paris was also unresponsive until Mostefai wound up among the ISIS militants who stormed the Bataclan concert hall last November, at which point its attitude turned distinctly less blas√©.
In June 2014, Turkish security officers in Istanbul intercepted a Norwegian citizen traveling to Syria with a camouflage outfit, a first-aid kit, knives, a gun magazine and parts of an AK-47, all of which E.U. customs officials had somehow overlooked.
Two months later, they intercepted a German citizen with a suitcase containing a bulletproof vest, military camouflage and binoculars that customs had also failed to notice. When they apprehended a Danish-Turkish dual citizen on his way to Syria, they sent him back to Copenhagen. But the Danes gave him another passport regardless so he could continue on his way. Everyone figured that what happens in Syria stays in Syria, so why worry?
Now, of course, everyone is worried big time. With the AP reporting that Islamic State has armed and trained 400 to 600 fighters for its European operations, talk of ISIS sleeper cells is ubiquitous. Referring to the Brussels district where the March 22 bombing plot was hatched, Patrick Kanner, the French social-democratic minister of youth, warned ominously: “There are today, as is well known, hundreds of neighborhoods in France that present potential similarities to what happened in Molenbeek.”
The implication was that the state of emergency should not only continue but deepen. As hundreds of neo-Nazis descended on Brussels chanting anti-immigrant slogans, paranoia took a giant leap forward as did its handmaidens racism and Islamophobia.
But as much everyone would like to blame it all on Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and others of that ilk, none of this is really their fault. To the contrary, the West’s disastrous Syria policy is entirely the creation of nice-guy liberals like Barack Obama. Desperate to appease both Israel and the Sunni oil sheiks, all of whom for various reasons wanted Assad to go, he signed on to a massive Sunni jihad that has turned Syria into a charnel house.
With death estimates now running as high as 470,000, which is to say one person in nine, the idea that massive violence like this could remain confined to a single country was absurd to begin with. Yet Obama went along regardless.
Indeed, the administration is still unwilling to back down despite all that has happened since. When a reporter asked point-blank at a State Department press briefing, “Do you want to see the [Damascus] regime retake Palmyra or would you prefer that it stays in Daesh’s hands,” spokesman Mark Toner hemmed and hawed before finally admitting that a takeover was preferable because “we think Daesh is probably the greater evil in this case.” (Exchange starts at 1:05.)
But the next day he walked back even that mealy-mouthed statement. Refusing to endorse Palmyra’s fall at all, he declared: “I’m not going to laud it because it’s important to remember that one of the reasons Daesh is in Syria is because Assad’s brutal crackdown on his own people created the kind of vacuum, if you will, that has allowed a group like ISIL or Daesh to flourish. Just because he’s now, given the cessation of hostilities, willing and-or able to divert his forces to take on Daesh doesn’t exonerate him or his regime from the gross abuses that they’ve carried out against the Syrian people.”
Since Assad is the only one to blame, the U.S. doesn’t have to ponder its own contribution to the problem. Instead, it gives itself a clean bill of health and moves on. Rather, it would like to move on if only ISIS would let it.
But the more aid the U.S. and its allies funnel into the hands of Sunni terrorists, the more groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda will grow and the farther their reach will extend. The upshot will be more bombings and shootings in Paris, Brussels, and who knows where else. Racism and Islamophobia will continue to surge regardless of what bien-pensant liberals do to talk it down.
The liberal center is engineering its own demise.

"Turkey is key supplier of weapons, military hardware to ISIS" - Russian envoy to UN


© Denis Sinyakov
Turkey is key supplier of weapons, military hardware to ISIS - Russian envoy to UN
Moscow has submitted data on Turkey’s illegal arms and military hardware supply to Islamic State in Syria to the UN Security Council. Supplies are supervised by the Turkish intelligence service, Russian UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said as cited by Russian media.