Tag Archives: Roundup

Reviews of ‘Indian Power Projection’

My book Indian Power Projection: Arms, Influence and Ambition, recently published in RUSI’s Whitehall Paper series of short monographs, was reviewed this week in two places.

Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times:

The rise of China has provoked lots of commentary on how Beijing sees the world. But there tends to be much less discussion of how India sees its place in the international order. Two recent publications shed some interesting light on that topic. One is a recent speech by Shivshankar Menon, who served for many years as India’s National Security Adviser. The other is a pamphlet on “Indian Power Projection”, by the scholar, Shashank Joshi … The motives and details of India’s strategic posture are discussed in Joshi’s admirably lucid pamphlet. The author, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, notes that the Indian elite is “embracing new and more ambitious tasks for the country’s military”. Joshi argues that India’s “threat perception” remains dominated “by the allied nuclear powers of Pakistan to the northwest and China to the north”. But, over the coming years, Joshi sees India joining the small group of nations – including the US, Britain, France, Russia and, increasingly, China – that are willing and able to “project power”, outside their own regions.

And Ankit Panda in the Diplomat:

Indian Power Projection: Ambition, Arms and Influence presents, as of 2016, what is perhaps the most up-to-date compendium of information on India’s hard power toolkit and Indian policymaker attitudes toward that toolkit … so much of what is written of Indian defense policy is pieced together from frenzied reporting and statements by officials. Without a white paper on defense, well-researched compendiums like Joshi’s become all the more valuable for analysts, scholars, and policy-makers working on India.





Political Autopsies on Mullah Omar and Murree

Another round-up of interesting analysis on the aftermath of Mullah Omar’s death, the politics of the Taliban, and the relationship with Afghanistan-Pakistan-Taliban talks.

Borhan Osman for the Afghan Analysts Network:

Why Akhtar Mansur agreed to this meeting in the first place, despite opposition from the Qatar office, was explained by the sources as follows: primarily, he intended to relieve the Taleban of the increasing pressure by Pakistan. But rather than agreeing to serious, formal and public talks with the Afghan government, he wanted the Murree event to remain private. He had tried not to damage the Taleban’s narrative of distance to Pakistan. He also did not want to look to be bypassing the movement’s formal channel for talks, ie the Qatar office. At the same time, he was convinced he could use the meeting, which he thought was inevitable, for something: to signal that the Taleban were willing to hold formal talks, which would come soon … endorsing the Qatar office as an autonomous entity in the wake of the Murree meeting could imply two possible aims. It would be a clear attempt to deny Pakistan leverage over Taleban leaders who, before, had lived on its soil, so it cannot drag them into further peace talks as the ‘official representatives’ of the movement. It would also allow the Qatar office to accelerate peace efforts, removing the need for the Leadership Council to supervise its activities … An external force intimidating one party into coming to the table can be no substitute for genuine interest in seeking a negotiated end to the conflict. Proceeding from a view that the Taleban insurgency is wholly a Pakistan-created phenomenon and therefore Islamabad can just deliver the Taleban to Kabul may not be very helpful. Pursuing such an approach always risked the trust-building needed for launching a more independent channel of talks with the Taleban.

Antonio Giustozzi in Foreign Affairs:

From the beginning, though, Yakub also entertained close relations with Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is leader of the Miran Shah Shura and is hostile to political reconciliation. Perhaps the many years of education Yakub spent in a Pakistani madrasah predisposed him to object to Mansour’s seemingly “unprincipled” approach to the peace process, which is increasingly focused more on power sharing and the distribution of the spoils than on principles (establishing a “more Islamic” system of government, whatever that might mean) … According to sources within the Quetta Shura, friction first arose between Yakub and Mansour in April, when Mansour initially raised the possibility of announcing to the world that Omar was dead. Mansour claimed that Kabul’s demand to meet Omar in order to obtain a clear endorsement of the peace process left the group with no other choice. Yakub, however, also understood that Mansour was laying the groundwork for his own succession to Omar. Yakub is also likely not to have appreciated Mansour’s decision to issue an Eid al-Fitr message at the end of Ramadan that was signed “Mullah Omar” and that endorsed the peace process. His [Mansour’s] message broke the unwritten agreement that the Quetta Shura would not use Omar’s name to promote policies that were still controversial among the Taliban … For now, an open split does not appear imminent. Yakub seems intent on organizing a campaign against Mansour within the Taliban, a brand name that has significant value. But if Mansour keeps breaking old rules and, most important, if he resumes the reconciliation process before gathering widespread support within the top layers of the Taliban, anything could happen. The Taliban also risks that major donors to the movement might end up so dismayed by ever worsening internal struggles that they could dump the Taliban altogether. Funding to the Taliban is already in decline this year, and a further acceleration of the cuts could have devastating effects

Barnett Rubin in the New Yorker:

It may be tempting to portray Mansur as in favor of talks, and Zakir and Mullah Omar’s family as “hard-liners” opposed to talks, but the lines are not so clear. Especially with the appointment of Mawlawi Haibatullah, Mansur seems to be strengthening his Ishaqzai tribe’s hold over the leadership rather than maintaining a careful tribal balance. Afghanistan’s history with the I.S.I. inevitably leads some to attribute differences between Zakir and Mansur to an effort by Pakistan to pressure Mansur, but a senior Pakistani official e-mailed to say, “Our main effort now is to prevent fragmentation That is lose-lose for everyone.” The Taliban Web site claimed that Mansur received visiting delegations, whose members pledged bay’at (religiously mandated allegiance) to him … The Pakistani pressure on the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government through a process in which Pakistan has a say will continue, as will differences among the Taliban on how to respond. Mansur authorized Taliban leaders with strong ties to the I.S.I. to participate in the July 7th meeting, while simultaneously permitting his official spokesman and Web site to issue statements undermining the meeting’s legitimacy. Now Mansur’s decisions, unlike those in Omar’s name, are unlikely to be met with unanimous consent, especially if they are seen as being made under pressure from Pakistan. The political office, which derived much of its authority from its close ties to Mullah Omar (its head, Tayyib Agha, is rumored to be the late leader’s son-in-law) might be orphaned. It has been under Mansur’s leadership, however, that Taliban spokesmen have stated that the political office is the only address for talks. If the office seizes its new autonomy to engage directly with the Afghan government, and the government accepts the offer rather then relying entirely on Pakistan, the office could be the government’s interlocutor in an Afghan-led effort. Any settlement will still need to safeguard Pakistan’s interests, but China’s involvement, as in the Urumqi meeting, may accomplish that more deftly than meeting under the gaze of I.S.I. generals.

Thomas Ruttig for the Afghan Analysts Network:

Mansur also gave the green light for early channels of contact, from opening the Qatar office to the Pugwash-organised talks earlier this year, also in Qatar. He also seems to have been the driving force behind the recent move to make the Political Committee independent of his own Quetta Shura. (In contrast, there was controversy about whether he had really blessed the Murree talks, too, or not. More about this in our following dispatch.) This policy of trying to make the Taleban more independent of Pakistan’s direct control, by moving its main political instrument to Qatar, has put him on the hit list of the anti-talks (but not necessarily pro-Pakistan [added on 1 Aug.]) forces among the Taleban, widely believed to be led by Mullah Qayum Zaker, and of Islamabad itself. (6) This, by the way, was a significant moment, creating for the first time something like an independent ‘political wing’ of the Taleban, if, of course, it remains credible with those fighting on the ground … Pakistan’s induction of its own favourite Taleban leaders, opponents of Mansur’s course, into the Murree talks amounted to a coup to take over the whole Taleban movement. To push forces more amenable to its own interests, it gambled on either a complete take over (in case the Mansur group would give in) or a final split of the Taleban. (Some Afghan observers AAN talked to see similarity in this move to Pakistan dropping Hekmatyar in favour of Mullah Omar’s Taleban in the mid-1990s.) This had, and still has, some chance of success, particularly as the Afghan government bought into the Pakistan-organised talks with that faction and when this faction gains more support within the Taleban. But then, the appointment of Mansur by his own group, to the disgruntlement of the opponents, was a counter-coup … For the time being, it will be insufficient to talk of ‘anti-‘ and ‘pro-talks’ Taleban, as there are now more currents with clear, distinctive agendas. We have ‘anti-talks’ Taleban who oppose a Pakistan-led approach (Mansur) but who are pro-talks when they can carry them out independently. We have ‘pro-talks’ Taleban who support the Pakistan-led approach (including those attending the talks in Urumchi and the first round in Murree). And we have Taleban apparently opposed to any talks (Zaker).

Andrew Small for Foreign Policy:

Beijing faces a jihadist world that is becoming increasingly hostile to its interests — and increasingly difficult to negotiate with. From the 1980s on, when the preeminent militant figures were headquartered in Afghanistan and Pakistan and receiving active sponsorship or tacit acquiescence from the Pakistani security services, Beijing enjoyed a number of benefits. Given that there were far more important targets, and the cause for an independent Uighur homeland was a peripheral one at best, attacking China over its Xinjiang policies seemed inadvisable. Moreover, with Pakistani facilitation, Beijing preferred buying off its potential opponents: The Taliban benefited from Chinese arms, money, and modest political support. Whether for reasons of tactical necessity or pragmatic advantage, the suffering of their Uighur brothers was a strikingly low priority for the Taliban or for Kashmiri militant groups. In 1997, even Osama bin Laden publicly dismissed bomb attacks in Xinjiang as a CIA plot to divide China and the Muslim world … That model has become far less viable.

Bette Dam interviewed in Der Spiegel:

I saw this misconception of who the real enemy in Afghanistan was. I realized that, more than we think, the corrupt Afghan government, with its warlords fighting each other, was also the enemy. Often bombs were attributed to the Taliban, but were they always behind it? Hardly any journalist was talking to the Taliban. So, I found it necessary to portray the Taliban movement and its leader, to explain who they are. As a result of that research, the book will explain why the West is losing the war in Afghanistan …  From the perspective of living in Kabul, the Taliban were scary. But after traveling extensively in the south, where many Taliban come from, I saw it differently. The Taliban were happy to talk, they felt misunderstood. For example, they considered it an important gesture that most of Taliban members surrendered to President Hamid Karzai after 9/11 and handed over their weapons. But the US and some of its allies didn’t accept a Taliban surrender and sent armies in to chase them … One of the interesting points is that Mullah Omar was a person who was very interested in the West. He really trusted the United States in the beginning, because they had helped him during the jihad in the 1980s to expel the Soviets. In 1996, when he became the leader of the Taliban, the first thing he expected to happen was the reopening of the US Embassy in Kabul. Instead, a big cultural misunderstanding ensued because what we saw, of course, was the Taliban’s treatment of women, the stonings. Although it is true these things are horrible, there was also a context in Afghanistan: the civil war. Women were being dragged off the streets, gang raped and murdered. They put women in bags and threw them in the water. A lot of tribes were killing each other.

After Mullah Omar

Some of the most useful pieces of commentary and reporting published on Mullah Omar’s alleged death:

Michael Semple for Politico:

The development will have far-reaching consequences for Afghan politics. In the first place, the shattering of the Mullah Omar myth will embolden a dissident faction within the Taliban leadership. The dissidents have been at loggerheads with the movement’s acting leader over how to respond to Pakistani demands that the Taliban talk to the Kabul government. Safe from allegations of rebellion against the Ameer, the dissidents are now free to push ahead with negotiations and maybe even to put up their own candidate for the leadership … ISIL followers in Afghanistan and Pakistan already accused the Taliban of waging an unlawful struggle because they lacked an Ameer. ISIL will now feel vindicated and try to recruit from the Taliban fighting forces. It remains to be seen just how much of a boost it receives as, even with Omar off the scene, there are significant barriers to its progress in Afghanistan. And in any case, ISIL’s gain is Al-Qaeda’s loss. In the tussle with ISIL over the past year, Ayman al-Zawahiri has continued to insist that he and Al-Qaeda are loyal to Mullah Omar. Zawahiri, too, will have to update his narrative. Moreover, none of the potential replacements for Omar has the kind of stature likely to persuade Al-Qaeda veterans to swear loyalty … Acknowledgement of Omar’s death is likely to hasten the shift to a multi-actor insurgency in Afghanistan. That would be a bitter reality for Afghans who hope for peace. But ultimately the Afghan government, with continuing international support, should be far more confident of ultimately prevailing over a fragmented insurgency than in a fight against a unified Taliban movement.

Barnett Rubin for the New Yorker:

For the first time the Taliban, founded to end factionalism, were speaking with multiple voices, some manipulated by Pakistan more obviously than ever. Since only the hidden Mullah Omar could settle which was the true voice of the Taliban, the question of his authority became pressing … The death of Mullah Omar may allow Pakistan to put leaders it controls more fully in charge of the Taliban. It may also cause the Taliban to splinter. Some may stop fighting and enter the system, while others may join even more extremist groups, such as the Islamic State, and fight the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the two governments cannot gain the willing participation of most of the Taliban in the peace process, Kabul may demand that Islamabad use force to shut down whatever part of the Taliban’s military machine it does not control directly. But the Pakistani Army, which is already overstretched by its posture toward India, and by battles against the Pakistani Taliban, Baloch nationalists, and armed gangs in Karachi, will be reluctant to take on a battle-hardened Afghan group, some of whose members it hopes to use as future agents of influence. These issues may at least temporarily draw the attention of high-level U.S. decision-makers back to Afghanistan, where they will find that they now need to coöperate closely with China.

The Guardian:

“I have asked around a lot and there was no military strategy coming from Mullah Omar, not in 2001, not in 2005, not in 2010,” said Bette Dam, a journalist and author who has been researching a biography of Omar for several years …  “In the current situation there is so much at stake, the possibility of peace, and many of the Taliban want a leader who can make daily decisions for them,” said Dam … “The timing of the release of this information needs to be taken very seriously,” said Dam. “There are several groups within the Taliban and outside who want to make sure they have a share in any peace or any power sharing, lots of groups are afraid to be left out.” … “If it is true [that he is dead], it would be a major issue for the peace talks, and it would be a major issue for the Taliban, because he can’t really be replaced,” said Felix Kuehn, an author who has researched the group for more than 10 years. “He is more than a man, he is an institution,” said Kuehn. “Even the younger generation of Talibs who have never seen him, and who are not very aligned with the policies put out by the Taliban leadership – those who are more radical and less inclined to peace talks – always speak highly of Mullah Omar, and want to hear what he thinks.”

Another Guardian story:

A Pakistani intelligence official told the Guardian on Wednesday he had been aware of the reports of Omar’s death since January 2014, based on information from “close aides” of the militant chief and family members … There are also several outstanding questions about Omar’s death, with no detail on exactly how or where he died, or where he was buried – something that may not be revealed for years, his biographer, Bette Dam, said, quoting a senior Taliban official: “You can’t find the grave, the grave is secret,” he told her, after confirming the death.

The NYT:

A different American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said American officials had heard “chatter” in recent days among senior Taliban members about their leaders’ possible demise. Still, the official cautioned that the communication, which was picked up through electronic surveillance and other sources of intelligence, was not definitive … A different official at Afghanistan’s spy agency, who like other Afghan officials spoke about the matter only on the condition of anonymity, said that the agency had learned of Mullah Omar’s death a year and a half ago and that since then, “a lot of our international allies have confirmed the death.” The [Afghan] official said that Mullah Omar had been relatively itinerant and was believed to have spent some time in Rawalpindi, home to the headquarters of the Pakistani military, among a host of other places. “Because of the American drones, they were changing his place very often,” the official said. … [A European] diplomat referred to intelligence indicating that Taliban commanders were discussing among themselves, with a variety of opinions, whether Mullah Omar was alive or dead. “Almost everyone believes the chatter wouldn’t be where it is if there wasn’t something significant here,” the diplomat said, adding, “It has never been at this volume or intensity before.” That is a change from a few years ago, when Western intelligence officials said they believed Mullah Omar was active and living under official protection in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

Sami Yousafzai ultra-revisionist account for Newsweek:

Just before the end of Ramadan this year I received an unexpected call from one of Mullah Mohammed Omar’s longtime family friends. He had ust learned a secret held by only a tiny circle of Omar’s most trusted associates: the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban was dead … this caller was different—extraordinarily well placed to know about the Mullah’s whereabouts. His claims were also very detailed. He asked not to be quoted by name on such a sensitive topic, but he and his family are highly respected for their longtime humanitarian work in Pakistan’s Afghan exile community. Omar died in Afghanistan, my contact said. People have often assumed that the Taliban leader fled across the border into Pakistan, like most of his surviving followers, but in fact he refused to leave the country of his birth … when the end finally came, Omar was holed up for the winter among the desolate mountains of Now Zad district in Helmand province, in an area of tiny villages known collectively as Taizeini.  Few maps show the place, but it’s roughly 100 miles northwest of Kandahar. A good friend was with him, according to my source. Mullah Abdul Jabar, a native of Zabul province, had served during the years of Taliban rule as governor of central Baghlan province … Omar told Jabar what to do in the event of his death or capture—get word to Mullah Sheikh Abdul Hakim. The religious scholar, a longtime friend and advisor of Omar’s, makes his home in Quetta, the southwestern Pakistani city where the Taliban leadership resides. Hakim and Jabar quickly relayed the news to three other senior Taliban figures. One was Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the head of the Quetta Shura. Another was Mullah Qayyum Zakir, director of the Taliban’s military council at the time. And the third was another religious scholar and longtime Omar friend, Mullah Abdul Salam, who lives and preaches in the city of Kuchlak, a few miles outside Quetta. (None of the five could be reached for comment.) A week after Jabar brought his news to Quetta, the council chiefs Mansoor and Zakir held a private meeting with the two religious scholars. The family friend says Mullahs Salam and Hakim formally gave Omar’s turban to Mansoor, appointing him to be Omar’s successor as Amir-ul-Momineen—the “Commander of the Faithful.” … Zakir wanted to announce Omar’s death immediately, but the others convinced him not to talk. In order to keep it secret, the Quetta Shura went so far as to issue a decree prohibiting any questions about Omar’s fate. Violators would be referred to a Taliban court.

Casey Garret Johnson for Foreign Policy on Omar’s alleged successor:

While other Taliban leaders have been imprisoned or put under house arrest by Pakistani authorities, Mansour remains a favored son in large part because he has remained in step with ISI policy and has often served as a link between the Haqqani network of Waziristan and the Afghan Taliban of Balochistan. He is also one of the individuals to have benefited from the U.S. surge in 2010-2011. As one analyst from Kandahar notes in an interview: “More than anyone else, Mansour has benefited from the leadership vacuum that opened up after the U.S. started to take a lot of the Taliban commanders out — particularly in the south. Mansour remained safe in Pakistan and he was able to expand his network and powerbase, even though he had never really been a military commander per se.” As late as 2012, Mansour was seen as a hardliner among Taliban leaders, opposing any talks with Hamid Karzai’s government. From about 2013 onward, his position appears to have changed, putting him directly at odds with Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a Taliban military leader from northern Helmand who has for years commanded arguably the largest organized insurgent front inside Afghanistan. Throughout 2014, Mansour and Zakir bickered over the direction of the movement, with Zakir adopting a hard line and eventually being sacked, only to be re-instated after a reconciliation involving a few slaughtered goats and hearty man hugs. By early 2015, however, the two “frenemies” were reportedly at odds again. The most recent news reports of Omar’s death also speculate that Mansour and Omar’s son are involved in a fight for control. Given his historically close ties with Pakistan, Mansour’s moderation could be read as a clear indicator that Pakistan’s calculus has indeed changed.

The Express Tribune (Pakistan):

A day after the news of Afghan Taliban supremo Mullah Omar’s death broke, the powerful Taliban leadership council elected on Thursday Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as the new Afghan Taliban supreme leader, a senior Taliban leader told The Express Tribune. “The council also elected Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is known as Khalifa, the chief of Haqqani as deputy of the Taliban’s leader,” the Taliban leader told on the condition of anonymity. The Taliban have not yet officially announced the new leader. However, the Taliban leader said the formal announcement is likely to be made shortly.

See also Colin Cookman’s excellent round-up.


British elections round-up

Source: FT elections data hub (http://elections.ft.com/uk/2015/projections)

Source: FT elections data hub (http://elections.ft.com/uk/2015/projections)

Some piece I’ve enjoyed over the past week: Robert Tombs in the New Statesman, on Britain’s supposed political crisis in historical context

British politics nevertheless retains remarkable elements of stability and the coming election will show how resilient it still is. Most people are not floating voters. The broad UK pattern of voting – usually with the Tories leading in England and their opponents ahead in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – has been noted. The Tory share of the vote in England in 2010 was almost identical to its share in the decade Queen Victoria ascended the throne. In England, regional political patterns have been very consistent: areas of Anglican dominance shown in the 1851 census (the only one to record religious affiliation) are similar to the strongholds of the modern Conservatives. Liberal and later Labour support was similarly linked with Dissent. In 2010, Anglicans were twice as likely to vote Tory as Catholics, despite the latter group’s conservatism on many social and cultural issues; Muslims, even more small-C conservative, were the most Labour-voting religious group in Britain.

Philip Stephens in the FT, celebrating the end of majorities:

The unravelling of the old political order is anyway making this discussion irrelevant. Whatever the balance between the two main parties when the ballots are counted, the election will most probably be decisive only in demonstrating that the first-past-the-post electoral system no longer delivers single party rule. Even assuming a sharp fall in the number of Liberal Democrats, more than 80 and perhaps up to 100 members of a House of Commons of 650 will come from parties other than the Tories or Labour. Numbers like that make it hard to see how left and right can again expect to secure sufficient seats for a majority.

Rafael Behr in the Guardian, on nationalism in the campaign:

 Few things could be more effective in sustaining that dynamic than the current Tory campaign to strip Scottish MPs of legitimacy in the next parliament. The depiction of a Labour administration propped up by the SNP as a potential crisis for the country is, at heart, an assertion of the moral primacy of English representation in the Commons. The implication is that people who vote for a nationalist party in Scotland are voluntarily curtailing the reach of their citizenship. Their opinion on who should be prime minister no longer counts.

Danny Finkelstein in The Times, on the reasonableness of scaremongering about the SNP:

You simply cannot spend a quarter of a century arguing that Scotland has a claim of right to determine its own affairs, questioning the legitimacy of a majority that originates in England, crafting institutions to accompany this rhetoric and then say that the very same arguments are unreasonable when someone gently asks questions about English laws … [The SNP] would be relied upon to sustain and support policies in a country they don’t want to be attached to, and in whose outcomes they have no interest. English education law is foreign policy to the SNP. It will exercise this power in the service of an leftist ideology that England has often rejected and doubtless will reject again.

Alex Massie in the Spectator, on why this is a dangerous argument (see also his long essay in February on the SNP wave and risk to the union):

Instead of bringing the nation – or nations, if you prefer – together, Cameron and his party (south of the border) have pushed them ever further apart. At no point has Cameron set out his vision for the better, more equitable, governance of the United Kingdom. Perhaps he does not have one. Instead there was an immediate push for EVEL, tying this to any changes in Scotland’s status. This was, transparently, a manoeuvre launched for tactical reasons: let’s dish Labour! No thought was given to the broader, longer, picture.

Philip Stephens in the FT, on the foreign policy implications

The fifth lesson is deeply dispiriting: Tory- or Labour-led Britain will retreat from the world. Mr Cameron’s promised referendum could wrench the nation out of the EU, his immigration rules would shut out the hard working and the talented from abroad. As for Mr Miliband, he sees the world as largely irrelevant to his grand project to build a fairer society. Both parties will annoy Washington by cutting defence spending. But then, these days, Britain’s voters are as mistrustful of foreign adventures as they are of the political leaders standing for election on May 7.

Peter Kellner in Prospect, on the day after:

The Tories, having acknowledged defeat would themselves face either a leadership election (if Cameron resigns as party leader as well as PM) or a leadership crisis (if he tries to hang on). The party will be in no position to try and thwart Miliband at this early stage. If, in a fit of madness, they announced their intention to try and vote down Miliband’s Queen’s Speech, and so provoke constitutional gridlock, Tory support in the polls would crumble. Rather than travel the road to perdition, they are likely to abstain (as they did in broadly similar circumstances on March 1974). Miliband will secure a majority, and possibly a huge majority. In short, the immediate question on 8th May will not be whether a majority exists for Labour to govern. It will simply be whether Cameron can construct a majority for his Queen’s Speech. If he can, he will stay as Prime Minister. If he can’t, then Miliband has no need tol do a deal with the SNP, Lib Dems or anyone else. Labour will lead the government. Depending on circumstances, Miliband may offer a deal to the Lib Dems, in order to implement progressive policies over a full five-year term; but he has no need to do so in order to get over the immediate hurdle of establishing himself as Prime Minister.

An #irantalks reading list


Seven bits of background on the Iran nuclear issue:

  1. On understanding “breakout”Greg Thielmann (PDF) for Arms Control Association, Scott Kemp with some excellent visual tools for Arms Control Wonk, and Ariane Tabatabai in the National Interest on the tussle over centrifuge numbers.
  2. On the importance of sneak-out over break-outJames Acton and Paul Pillar for the National Interest, Jeffrey Lewis in Foreign Policy and Greg Thielmann/Robert Wright for Slate.
  3. On understanding the web of sanctions: Ali Vaez for the ICG, Cornelius Adebahr (PDF) and Kenneth Katzman (PDF) on unwinding European and US sanctions respectively, and Kaveh Waddell in the Atlantic.
  4. On the Possible Military Dimensions (PMDs) to Iran’s programme: Jeffrey Lewis in Foreign Policy and again in ACW on interpreting the 2007 NIE and the “halt”, former inspector Robert Kelley with his “no slam dunk” piece of 2012 in Bloomberg, and Nima Geramni for WINEP on some background.
  5. On how to deal with PMDs as part of a deal: Mark Hibbs for ACW in 2012 (and post-JPOA, two more good pieces), Hugh Chalmers for RUSI this week, Barbara Slavin for Al-Monitor on recent comments by the IAEA chief on this subject, and Jon Wolfsthal advocating a modest approach in the National Interest.
  6. On the domestic politics of a deal: NYT on all-round obstacles, FT on Iranian hardliners’ quiescence, Hooman Majd in the Guardian, Arash Karami in Al-Monitor on the IRGC chief’s intervention on the issue. And, on the US side, NYT On Obama circumventing Congress, and CNNLA Times and The Hill on Congress.
  7. Finally, on the talks: Julian Borger’s Monday scene-setter and his Wednesday column on “too big to fail”, Reza Marashi for IranWire on the gaps, Ellie Geranmayeh for ECFR, WSJ on Kerry’s efforts to get a united US-European front, and my own brief thoughts for RUSI.

Robin Raphel: “goddess of Indian terrorists, secessionists and other outlaws”

It’s been reported that the veteran US diplomat Robin Raphel, who had been working for the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), after spells as a lobbyist and a contractor in the US Embassy in Islamabad, is under federal investigation “as part of a counterintelligence probe”. She was also “placed on administrative leave last month, and her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire this week”.

As the Post noted, “espionage cases involving State Department officials are relatively rare”. But the case is also notable because Raphel was – to put it mildly, as the excerpts below demonstrate – India’s bête noire throughout the 1990s for her outspoken views. When Raphel returned to the State Department in 2009, the analyst and former intelligence officer B. Raman wrote, in an article titled ‘She’s Back’:

During her posting in the US Embassy in New Delhi [1991-1993], she was actively interacting with the various anti-India groups in Jammu & Kashmir and it was reportedly on her advice that the Hurriyat, as an umbrella organization of these groups, became very active.

It was during her tenure as the Assistant Secretary of State that the Clinton Administration declared Jammu & Kashmir as a “disputed territory” and started calling for the resolution of the dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people. This refrain has once again been taken up by the Obama Administration.

Towards the end of 1993, during a non-attributable discussion with some Indian journalists in Washington DC she reportedly defended this formulation and contended that the US considered the Kashmiri territory transferred by Pakistan to China in 1963 when Ayub Khan was the President also as disputed territory, whose future was yet to be decided.  The Times of India prominently carried this story on the front page without identifying the official of the State Department who had talked to the Indian journalists on the Kashmir issue. Enquiries made by the government of India identified the official as Robin Raphel.

It was during her stewardship of the South Asian Affairs portfolio in the State Department that the Taliban under Mulla Mohammad Omar came into existence in 1994 with the joint support of the Pakistan and US Governments. The Taliban was prepared to support the construction of an oil and gas pipeline by UNOCAL, an American oil company, from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan and she had met Mulla Mohammad Omar in this connection. This period also saw Osama bin Laden shift from Khartoum to Jalalabad in 1996 without any objection from the US. The Taliban later shifted him to Kandahar.

Even after she left the State Department and joined the faculty of the National Defence University, she reportedly maintained active contacts with anti-India elements in J&K.

The News has correctly described her as “one known to be Pakistan’s friend”.  She is.

(Raphel was also prominent in Raman’s Times of India obituary last year).

Contemporary reporting and writing also highlight just how toxic her interventions were in India. The former governor of Jammu and Kashmir devoted a section in his book to Raphel’s comments:

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Following those comments, India Today wrote in 1993:

[T]he fact that the sudden renewal of international pressure on Kashmir is being led by the US, the sole remaining superpower, gives the Kashmir question unprecedented urgency, even legitimacy. Kashmir, as officials put it, has appeared on the “radar screen” and no amount of rhetoric about the Simla Agreement or aide memoires can wish that away.

US Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel may be the villain of the piece in New Delhi – and the flavour of the month in Islamabad – but she is certainly no loose cannon on the State Department deck. Nor is she to be dismissed as a ‘bleeding-heart’ junior functionary who overstepped her official brief. Raphel spent three years at the US embassy in New Delhi – she was married to ambassador Arnold Raphel who died in General Zia-ul-Haq’s plane crash. Her brief in India was Kashmir, more specifically what the Americans call Track-2 diplomacy which involves bringing together experts from India, Pakistan and Kashmir in ‘neutral’ situations …

Raphel, who is an articulate and aggressive speaker, suggested that the time was ripe to turn the screws on both India and Pakistan over resolving Kashmir. Her argument advocating a ‘a glove off line was, as even top level MEA officials admit, forceful and credible. The US and its western allies were “prepared to do anything” to avoid regional instability in the subcontinent …

On the surface, Raphel’s remark smacks of indirect support for militancy in the Valley. The Indian aide memoire in reaction to Raphel’s briefing, stated that “it only encourages Pakistan to persist with its interference,” and added; “We percieve… a studied tilt on the part of US towards Pakistan.”

Even in the US, Raphel’s remarks were seen as being tendentious and undiplomatic. “Raphel made a very grave mistake, completely inappropriate for an Assistant Secretary of State,” says Selig Harrison, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has written extensively on the subcontinent … What the Raphel remark has exposed is Indian ineffectiveness in influencing US foreign policy.

India Today again, in 1994, on the “patch-up”:

It is silly, therefore, as some politicians are now doing, to sit on ceremony or to condemn the treatment and access accorded to Raphel as a manifestation of Indian obsequiousness in the face of a bully. For it was really nothing of the sort. Raphel, for all her unpalatable pronouncements, is the senior most Clinton Administration official dealing with this part of the world.

And having decided to play host to the representative of the unipolar world’s most powerful leader, it was only proper that the Government treat her with apt protocol while also using her as the lightning rod for criticism of Washington’s recent postures on Kashmir and related issues. The very fact that Raphel decided to descend on New Delhi right in the midst of a diplomatic hurricane of her own making was in itself proof that Washington wanted to make amends. And there were sound reasons for this. America’s commitment to its Manifest Destiny forces it into playing a high-profile world role at any given time. …

For starters, Raphel backtracked completely on her most controversial utterance on the validity of the Instrument of Accession. She recognised the provocation from Pakistan-trained terrorists and was at pains to stress that Washington was mounting ceaseless pressure on Pakistan. This was clearly damage control. And it apparently had the sanction of the highest authority in her land. For it was no coincidence that in the midst of Raphel’s visit, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao received an invitation from President Bill Clinton to visit the US.

The New York Times in 1994 on another flare-up:

India has reacted with anger to recent statements by the Clinton Administration over possible abuses of human rights in the Government’s efforts to put down a rebellion in Kashmir … Among the comments that have riled New Delhi was a statement last month by President Clinton while accepting the credentials of Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s new Ambassador to the United States, that the United States shared Pakistan’s “concerns on the abuse of human rights in Kashmir.” The Indian reaction had been primed by remarks in Washington by Ms. Raphel, who was named last fall to the newly created post of Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs.

The Washington Post (20 March 1994, p. C1; no link) had a particularly colourful account:

Particular scorn has been reserved for the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Robin Raphel, who until a year ago was a senior political officer in the U.S. Embassy here. Raphel, who is expected to visit Delhi on Tuesday, has become a lightning rod for complaint for her outspokenness on Kashmir.

For instance, in the middle of a tense stand-off between the Indian army and terrorists barricaded in a mosque in Kashmir last October, Raphel said at a Washington press briefing that the United States did not believe Kashmir “is forever more an integral part of India,” adding that Kashmiris should be consulted about the future of their region. The State Department churned out clarifications, and officials here conceded that the timing of Raphel’s statement was unfortunate.

Indians have focused on Raphel’s remarks, and comments by Clinton expressing concern over human rights abuses in Kashmir, as a sign that America is ignoring Pakistan’s role in fueling the insurgency and secretly favors an independent Kashmir. Nonetheless, the increased public pressure by the United States and others is paying some dividends as India has begun opening Kashmir to more international observers.

U.S. officials have complained that the Indian embassy in Washington and Indian officials in Delhi have orchestrated a flood of negative and often uninformed commentary about the United States and its policies, which are eagerly picked up and sensationalized by India’s free but strongly nationalistic press.

A front page story two weeks ago in the Hindustan Times, a popular, mainstream daily, called Raphel the “goddess of Indian terrorists, secessionists and other outlaws” and urged the government to roll out a “black carpet” for her when she arrives later this month. “Considering the animosity she arouses in every patriotic heart, politicians are expected to treat her as an untouchable,” the story said. “It is likely that she will use this country’s soil to reaffirm the Clinton administration’s commitment to destabilize India.”

The Great British Trench Off

Title courtesy of this post. A collection of  noteworthy articles connected to the emerging Gove-Evans (or Gove-Evans-Hunt-Sheffield-Johnson-etc) First World War tussle in the British press.

Michael Gove in the Daily Mail, in an article titled ‘Why does the Left insist on belittling true British heroes?’:

The First World War may have been a uniquely horrific war, but it was also plainly a just war … The ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified. And the war was also seen by participants as a noble cause. Historians have skilfully demonstrated how those who fought were not dupes but conscious believers in king and country, committed to defending the western liberal order.

Other historians have gone even further in challenging some prevailing myths. Generals who were excoriated for their bloody folly have now, after proper study, been re-assessed.  Douglas Haig, held up as a crude butcher, has been seen in a new light thanks to Professor Gary Sheffield, of Wolverhampton University, who depicts him as a patriotic leader grappling honestly with the new complexities of industrial warfare. Even the battle of the Somme, once considered the epitome of military futility, has now been analysed in depth by the military historian William Philpott and recast as a precursor of allied victory.

Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph:

If you find it hard to understand why Britain fought so unhesitatingly for a “scrap of paper” – the 1839 guarantee of Belgian neutrality – think back to our last war. When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, none of our essential interests was threatened. The war was fought over sparse and distant islands, whose 1800 inhabitants added nothing to our economy and occupied possibly the least strategically valuable speck of dry land on the face of the earth. It’s true, of course, that the islanders, unlike the Belgians, were British, and this was a huge consideration. Still, almost all Britons were prepared to support a war which would see a massive outlay of blood and treasure for no return. Why? Essentially for the reason given by Admiral Sir Henry Leach to Margaret Thatcher immediately after the invasion: “Because if we do not achieve complete success, in another few months we shall be living in a different country whose word counts for little.”

Boris Johnson in the Telegraph:

Why was it necessary to follow up some rumpus in Sarajevo by invading France, for heaven’s sake? It wasn’t. The driving force behind the carnage was the desire of the German regime to express Germany’s destiny as a great European power, and to acquire the prestige and international clout that went with having an empire. That is why Tirpitz kept increasing the size of the German fleet – in spite of British efforts to end the arms race. That’s why they tried to bully the French by sending a gunboat to Agadir in 1911 … If [shadow education secretary] Tristram Hunt seriously denies that German militarism was at the root of the First World War, then he is not fit to do his job, either in opposition or in government, and should resign. If he does not deny that fact, he should issue a clarification now. 

Richard Evans hitting back at Gove in the Guardian:

[Gove] seems to forget that one of Britain’s two main allies was the Russia of Tsar Nicholas II, a despotism of no mean order, far more authoritarian than the Kaiser’s Germany. Until Russia left the war early in 1918, any talk of fighting to defend “western” values was misplaced. Britain wasn’t a democracy at the time either: until the Fourth Reform Act of 1918, 40% of adult males didn’t have the vote, in contrast to Germany, where every adult man had the right to go to the ballot box in national elections.

Gove suggests that “the ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified.” He’s right about the elites, but misses the point that they weren’t able to carry the majority of the German people with them; the largest political party, the Social Democrats, was opposed to annexations and had long been critical of the militarism of the elites. By the middle of the war, the Social Democrats had forged the alliance with other democratic parties that was to come to power at the war’s end. German atrocities in the first phase of the war, in France, and the last phase, in the east, were real enough, but you can’t generalise from these to say this is how the Germans would have treated the whole of the rest of Europe had they won. Imperial Germany was not Nazi Germany; the Kaiser was not Hitler.

And who are these people who are peddling “leftwing versions of the past designed to belittle Britain and its leaders”? Step forward, please,Professor Niall Ferguson … Sir Max Hastings [and] the late Conservative MP Alan Clark …

Gary Sheffield writing in the Guardian in June 2013:

In announcing details of the official programme of commemorations for the centenary of the first world war, Maria Miller, the culture secretary, was careful to say the government would simply “set out the facts” about the origins of the conflict without any interpretation. I am not the only historian to be uneasy about this. The government, through its silence, is tacitly endorsing the popular view of the war as a futile one, a belief that is sharply at odds with most modern scholarship, and with how it was perceived at the time.

Britain went to war with Germany in August 1914 for similar reasons to those for which the country fought Hitler’s Germany in the second world war: to prevent an authoritarian, militarist, expansionist enemy achieving hegemony in Europe and thus imperilling British security. Most historians argue that Germany and Austria-Hungary were primarily responsible for initiating the war (recent attempts to blame Russia are not wholly convincing). Whoever started it, the fact is that in 1914-18, Germany waged a war of aggression that conquered large tracts of its neighbours’ territory. As has often been pointed out, there were distinct continuities between the policy and strategy of imperial Germany and its Nazi successor. In the first world war, German refusal to seriously contemplate handing back the fruits of its aggression rendered null any attempt to bring about a negotiated peace. Not until Germany was clearly losing on the battlefield in 1918 did Berlin show any flexibility over this issue, and by then it was too late …

And Sheffield in November 2008:

The first world war began for two fundamental reasons. First, decision-makers in Berlin and Vienna chose to pursue a course that they hoped would bring about significant political advantages even if it brought about general war. Second, the governments in the entente states rose to the challenge. At best, Germany and Austria-Hungary launched a reckless gamble that went badly wrong. At worst, 1914 saw a premeditated war of aggression and conquest, a conflict that proved to be far removed from the swift and decisive venture that some had envisaged.

Nigel Biggar in Standpoint magazine, in September 2013:

[C]elebration is possible without tub-thumping, and triumphalism needn’t spoil the sober recognition of triumph. It is possible to honour the military success of our national forebears in defeating an unjust invader without deeming ourselves universally superior. It is possible to judge one nation state’s aggressive action morally wrong and another’s defensive reaction morally right, while recognising that the victim bears some responsibility for the sins of the aggressor … Germany had suffered no injury, nor was it under any immediate or emergent threat of suffering one. Unprovoked, it launched a European war to assert and establish its own military and diplomatic dominance. In response, Britain went to war primarily to maintain international order … and to fend off a serious threat to its own national security …

In addition, we can assume that the brutal relentlessness of the German military toward civilians in 1914 would have also characterised postwar German domination, especially in those regions subjected to military occupation. As John Horne and Alan Kramer have recently shown, it was German military policy to use civilians as human shields in combat, to burn villages in collective reprisal for resistance, and to shoot local irregulars who were caught bearing arms. Between August and October 1914 well over 6,000 civilians were deliberately killed by German troops in Belgium and France, and a further 23,000 were forcibly deported to German prison camps …

Wearing down the enemy is a reasonable aim of military endeavour in situations where a decisive breakthrough cannot be achieved, and this need not be done carelessly. It can be done efficiently, in a manner least expensive to one’s own side … those who damn British generals for waging attritional war and tolerating high casualty rates for months on end, must reckon with the fact that the undisputed turning-point in the later war against Hitler — the Battle of Stalingrad — was horrifically attritional.

John Blake in the Times Educational Supplement:

In fact, if the centenary is to be truly historical, the First World War needs to be considered in far greater depth, and the myths that have grown up around it challenged. I would like to take aim at three here: first, that it was, without question, an unjust and imperialist war; second, that war poets such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen provide a representative response of soldiers to the conflict; and third, that the generals of the First World War were ignorant and callous butchers who had no regard for their men. All three of these myths appear to be deeply embedded in too many of our schools and in too much of our culture.

Addressing the first misconception is what started me thinking about all this to begin with. I realised recently that I was teaching the causes of the First World War in almost exactly the same way as they were taught to me 15 years ago, and using almost exactly the same resources and textbooks. The lack of references in exam syllabuses to assessing historians’ interpretations has tended to mean that this area has gone unchanged, with little engagement with new historiography as it emerges. This is despite significant shifts in the view of academics, most recently represented by Christopher Clark’s magisterial The Sleepwalkers: how Europe went to war in 1914.

Thomas Laquer reviewing Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers in the LRB:

On 6 July it seemed that the German state was speaking with a single voice; in response to Austrian entreaties, the kaiser and his chancellor promised to support Austria, assuring it that the German army was ready for whatever happened: this is the famous ‘blank cheque’ that is said to have hastened the coming of the war and revealed how eager Germany was for it. But there is strong evidence to suggest that Germany intended nothing of the sort. Or, to put it differently, that few believed the German cheque would be cashed, seeing it as an effort to limit to a local war any conflict that might follow from Austria’s quarrel with Serbia. The army made no plans for a general war; the kaiser believed the war would be localised. And in any case, no one believed that Russia would actually go to war over Serbia. It had capitulated to Austria in 1913 and it was assumed that the tsar wouldn’t appreciate the anti-monarchical inclinations of the Serbian terrorists any more than the kaiser did. The Germans had also failed to grasp the significance of the pro-peace Kokovtsov’s removal from the chairmanship of the council of ministers; like the British, they believed the pro-German party was in the ascendant …

The second example is the Austrian ultimatum that was finally delivered to Serbia on 25 July after a great deal of diplomatic dithering and a long drafting process that might have ended in a very different document. The supposed outrageousness of points 5 and 6 is often said to have made compromise impossible and to have assured a wider Balkan, if not a world war. The first of these demanded that Serbia agree to allow organs of the imperial government to play a part in the suppression of anti-Austrian subversion within its boundaries; the second demanded that Austria have a direct role in investigating the criminal network behind the assassination. France, Russia and of course Belgrade took this as an outrageous attack on Serbia’s inviolable sovereignty and to be tantamount to a declaration of war.

The Austrian demand was, as Clark points out, a whole lot less of an infringement of Serbian sovereignty than the 1999 Rambouillet Agreement, which Henry Kissinger described as ‘a provocation, an excuse to start bombing’. It was less of a provocation, to say nothing of a direct assault on Serbian sovereignty, because the core problem – irredentism – didn’t respect national boundaries and it was unclear what direct role Serbia had in the 28 June plan, even if it was committed to the ideology that motivated it. Furthermore, once Pašić and his colleagues focused on the ultimatum they were inclined to avoid a war by acquiescing. It was Russia that urged resistance; it was only on receipt of a telegram revealing that Russia had ordered mobilisation that the tone changed, and even then the response was evasive rather than dismissive. Meanwhile, Poincaré, the French president, had been in St Petersburg, making sure that his allies there kept the German danger clearly in mind. And even after all this, there were further moments of indecision before the gates really closed.

Tony Barber reviewing multiple books, including Clark’s and Margaret MacMillan’s, in the FT:

As Hastings, MacMillan and McMeekin point out, most historians nowadays regard the Fischer thesis about a pre-1914 German plan for world domination as too extreme. Instead it is more usual to blame the war’s outbreak, in descending order of culpability, on Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Serbia, France and Britain. Germany stands accused of practising an abrasive diplomacy in the prewar years, and of offering rash, wholehearted support for Austria-Hungary’s insistence on punishing Serbia after Franz Ferdinand’s death on June 28 1914 at the hands of a Bosnian Serb terrorist. Austria-Hungary’s leaders are deemed guilty of reckless behaviour from the start of the July crisis. Russia was willing to risk war and ordered early mobilisation in the knowledge that this would expand the conflict beyond the Balkans. All in all, MacMillan speaks for many historians today when she writes that the greatest responsibility lies with “Austria-Hungary’s mad determination to destroy Serbia in 1914, Germany’s decision to back it to the hilt [and] Russia’s impatience to mobilise”.

what to read on the Iran nuclear talks II


This week Zarif appeared to offer a concession, suggesting Tehran might no longer insist on hammering out wording in the interim agreement that explicitly guaranteed Iran the right to enrich uranium, saying there could be references to the right already, under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But an Iranian negotiator at the talks denied the Iranian position had eased. “If this element is not in the text, it is unacceptable to us. Without that, there will be no agreement.” … A compromise had been floated in the days running up the latest Geneva talks whereby the agreement text would mention NPT rights and the parties would interpret that in their own way. However, the Iranian negotiator said that would not be enough for Tehran. “It is because there are different interpretations of the NPT that there is a need to spell it out in the text. We are trying to find language that is the least problematic for all parties, but what is essential is the element of enrichment.”


Among the issues to be resolved concerns language in the text on enrichment, an analyst briefed by negotiators told Al-Monitor. Specifically, he understood, language in the P5+1 proposal given to Iran at the end of the last meeting November 9th would permanently limit Iran’s enrichment, and would never let Iran be treated as a normal member of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the analyst understood. Another issue is thought to be a demand on the Arak facility, an issue the Iranians told the P5+1 at the Nov. 9 meeting would not be acceptable, and which remains so now, at least without additional sanctions relief, the analyst said.


Several issues must be settled if the two sides are to clinch a breakthrough after a decade of nuclear talks, diplomats said. One is how to word Iran’s assurances that it won’t continue work on its heavy-water reactor in the city of Arak, which will be capable of producing plutonium usable in a nuclear weapon. The second is what should happen to Iran’s stockpile of near-weapons-grade enriched uranium. Differences also remain on the precise sanctions relief to be offered Iran, an important part of what the Western diplomat called a package of concessions each side could take.

Fundamental to the overall accord is Iran’s claim that it has a right to enrich uranium. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted in a speech on Wednesday that the West recognize what Iran says is its right to enrich uranium. Iranian officials in Geneva on Thursday identified the issue as perhaps the biggest impediment to an agreement this week. An Iranian diplomat in Geneva said any pact signed this week must contain the concept of Iran having the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under the U.N.’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “If the right to enrich isn’t acknowledged, there won’t be a deal,” said the diplomat. But Iranian officials also said there was some flexibility in the language that could be used.

A senior U.S. official in Geneva said the Obama administration was confident language could be found to bridge the positions. “Iran has for a long time said that they believe they have an inalienable right to enrichment,” said the official. “The United States has said for an equally long time that we do not believe any country…has a right to enrichment. Do I believe this issue can be navigated in an agreement? Yes, I do. And we will see if that can be done or not.” Officials wouldn’t outline the language that might be used to reconcile the two sides. Outside nuclear experts close to the diplomacy said a possible outcome would be for the P5+1 to recognize in a text agreement that Iran would enjoy all the rights of a signatory to the nonproliferation treaty, without explicitly saying Iran could enrich uranium domestically.

Washington Post:

Both the U.S. and Iranian delegations face pressure from skeptics at home. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) joined other prominent members of Congress in warning that even harsher economic sanctions could be imposed on Iran in the weeks ahead. The White House had lobbied to prevent lawmakers from approving new measures while the Iran talks were at a delicate stage. “While I support the administration’s diplomatic efforts, I believe we need to leave our legislative options open to act on a new, bipartisan sanctions bill in December shortly after we return,” Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor.

In Iran, conservative clerics have warned newly elected President Hassan Rouhani against agreeing to any limits on Iran’s nuclear program. On Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators formed a ring around the country’s Fordow uranium-enrichment plant to protest any deal limiting the facility’s output. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, soured the atmosphere surrounding the talks with an inflammatory speech Wednesday that denounced Western countries as “evil powers” and called Israel the “rabid dog” of the Middle East.

New York Times:

Leading members of Congress were less constrained. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, introduced legislation on Thursday that would give the White House 60 days to conclude an interim agreement. If such an accord were achieved and Mr. Obama were later informed that the Iranians were not in compliance with some of its provisions, the president would have no more than 15 days to reverse the sanctions relief that he had granted Iran. Mr. Corker’s legislation would also give the White House no more than 180 additional days to conclude a more comprehensive agreement that the Obama administration says it is seeking or any sanctions that had been relaxed would be reimposed. The aim of the legislation is to prevent the Iranians from dragging out the talks and making an initial agreement the final one.It also would set more stringent terms for a comprehensive deal than Iran is currently prepared to accept by demanding that Tehran end uranium enrichment.

Round-up of interesting reads on NSA/Snowden

Interesting pieces on the NSA affair, some provocative, from the last few months:

Scott Shane (NYT):

Another former insider worries less about foreign leaders’ sensitivities than the potential danger the sprawling agency poses at home. William E. Binney, a former senior N.S.A. official who has become an outspoken critic, says he has no problem with spying on foreign targets like Brazil’s president or the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. “That’s pretty much what every government does,” he said. “It’s the foundation of diplomacy.” But Mr. Binney said that without new leadership, new laws and top-to-bottom reform, the agency will represent a threat of “turnkey totalitarianism” — the capability to turn its awesome power, now directed mainly against other countries, on the American public. “I think it’s already starting to happen,” he said. “That’s what we have to stop.”

Whatever reforms may come, Bobby R. Inman, who weathered his own turbulent period as N.S.A. director from 1977 to 1981, offers his hyper-secret former agency a radical suggestion for right now. “My advice would be to take everything you think Snowden has and get it out yourself,” he said. “It would certainly be a shock to the agency. But bad news doesn’t get better with age. The sooner they get it out and put it behind them, the faster they can begin to rebuild.”

Shane Harris et al. (FP):

A former White House official, who served in a prior administration, said it was essentially impossible that the president wouldn’t know foreign leaders were being monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies, and principally the NSA, as part of regular operations aimed at keeping him informed about diplomatic relations and negotiations. Information on foreign leaders that is based on recorded calls or other signals intelligence is “unique,” the former official said, and its nature is obvious to anyone reading or hearing an intelligence report or receiving a briefing. “If you saw it, you’d know that it came out of somebody’s mouth,” the former official said. “I cannot believe that [Obama’s national security staff] didn’t brief the president on foreign leaders when he was going in to visit with them.” Much of that information would have comes from signals intelligence. And the failure to inform the president that a piece of information came from spying on a leader could be a fireable offense, the former White House official said. “It’s almost a dereliction not to tell him.”

Paul Pillar (National Interest):

We are partly seeing the effects of the cleverness of the activist who is masquerading as a journalist, who started his dribble of leaks with revelations about collection within the United States that is directed against terrorism, before moving on to leaks about very different forms of electronic collection, collected for very different purposes. The starting focus on terrorism has led to the habit of evaluating almost anything NSA or the intelligence community does by asking how many terrorist attacks the intelligence prevented. Actually, access to the email of an important foreign leader, if such access were to be gained, would be quite useful to U.S. policymakers in a number of respects. And again, the “it” in the reference to “trouble it has caused” properly refers to the leaking, not to the intelligence collection.

More fundamentally, if we were to resign ourselves to giving up anything that would cause a flap if exposed, on the grounds that “in the Internet era” exposure is likely, this would mean ceasing most collection of the entire intelligence community—all of it except what is directed against open source material. Most intelligence collection is kept secret because most of it assuredly would cause flaps if exposed. This is true not just of NSA’s electronic activities. Human espionage, for example, almost always involves the violation of some other country’s laws. If we were to abandon all of this, the damage from leaks would be exponentially higher. We would be the losers, and foreign-based activists dedicated to undermining U.S. foreign policy would be the winners.

 David Ignatius (WaPo):

The NSA documents that have surfaced reveal an exuberant, almost adolescent quality among the tech wizards who blew through privacy barriers. They gave their top-secret projects colorful code names such as Boundless Informant or Egotistical Giraffe. They created compartments with mottoes that sound like playground boasts: “Nothing but net” and “The mission never sleeps.” Hannah Arendt wrote famously of the “banality of evil.” This group makes one realize that childishness can be a characteristic, too. Like many hackers, NSA operatives seem to have done things sometimes for the thrill of it, just because they could […]

It’s hard to imagine global agreement on a framework for spying, which, by definition, involves breaking other countries’ laws. But the United States and the many, many other countries that conduct surveillance need new rules of the road. Conventions against torture, chemical weapons and prisoner abuse don’t prevent wars, but they do limit extreme activities of combatants. Something similar is needed here.

David Rothkopf (FP):

Echoing the White House’s sadly lame (and diplomatically tone-deaf) “everybody spies” non-defense, these insiders, who no doubt sleep in their trench coats and are risking their marriages with a steady stream of critiques of the inaccuracies in Homeland and Covert Affairs, have once again argued that spies are paid to listen in on people and that includes our friends and always has.

Were they (and the White House) a little more intellectually honest in their analyses, of course, they would find that, in the first instance, not everyone spies and that, in the second, those who do spy do so to differing degrees via differing approaches and within differing guidelines. Furthermore, the types of spying that are currently gaining much of the criticism have either been controversial within the intelligence community in the past (economic spying and spying on friends) or are so new that they are not well understood in terms of operational security risks or other implications (warehousing data hoovered out of the Internet) […]

Yes, many governments spy. But so too do all countries have armies, police forces, and tax codes. In each instance, the question is not whether to pursue the activity — it is how to do it, how to limit it, and what values should underpin it. Our spying has overreached. We took risks we shouldn’t have for rewards that were too limited.

John Schindler (20 Committee):

One former DGSE officer boasted that, while his service was not quite as capable as NSA, technically speaking, it is still one of the five best SIGINT agencies in the world, adding that it listens in on many world leaders: “I had telephone tap transcripts in my hands of President George W. Bush that we carried out,” he admitted. Is the current public fuss caused by Snowden’s relevations “populism or crass ignorance?” he wondered, “because we obviously send our reports to [our] political authorities.” […]

While France, like Germany, is not part of the Five Eyes SIGINT alliance, it shares a great deal of information with NSA regularly and in 2010, according to the report, Paris came close to joining the alliance but the Obama White House scuttled the deal in the end. There is also a tight intelligence sharing relationship between DGSE and the BND, its German equivalent, and it’s evident that French spies are more than a tad displeased with all the public fuss in Germany about matters that are best left out of the public’s eye, in France’s view. That Chancellor Merkel is exploiting the Snowden crisis to get her country fully into the Five Eyes system is the common perception among French officials […]

In all, this is exactly the mature, nuanced view of intelligence that one would expect from France, a country with excellent espionage services that form a key part of the Western intelligence alliance against common enemies and threats. I wish America had more such friends.

Schindler again:

At bottom, Germany (like France), seeks not to shut down NSA espionage, rather to get closer to it. Berlin has long been jealous of London and the other Anglosphere members of the so-called Five Eyes community, the SIGINT alliance born in the Second World War which, to this day, constitutes the most successful international intelligence partnership in world history. Perhaps because they were on the wrong side when that alliance was created in the days of the ULTRA secret, German intelligence agencies have always wanted into the club and its privileged inner circle. Although Germany enjoys a tight spy relationship with the United States (and Britain too), Berlin knows its place, and it would like an upgrade.

Abandoning the US-German intelligence partnership is simply not an option, no matter what politicians may say, and regardless of how much hysteria is created by the media. The reasons for this are well known to intelligence insiders, and are elaborated in a new report in the Berlin daily Die Welt. Its title, “Technically Backward and Helpless,” is painfully accurate. There can be no doubt that Germany’s intelligence and security services, preeminently the Federal Intelligence Service (BND, Germany’s CIA plus NSA equivalent) and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV, equivalent to Britain’s Security Service), are indeed deeply dependent on American partners, and have been since the day of their creation […] “Without information from the Americans, there would have been successful terrorist attacks in Germany in the past years,” explained a BfV official, truthfully.

Alan Rusbridger (NYRB):

A more plausible answer is that the British intelligence services simply find it extremely difficult to deal with journalists. Which, in itself, is illustrative of the wider problem of balancing surveillance with civil liberties. How on earth do you reconcile something that must be secret with something that begs to be discussed?

Until comparatively recently it was forbidden to name the heads of the UK intelligence services. The British press then had a voluntary compact—the Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system—under which editors can unofficially seek advice on security matters. The retired air force wing commander who administers it says that between 80 and 90 percent of journalists are happy to submit their copy to him in advance of publication.

The two main intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, will never comment on the record and typically prefer to deal with one or two journalists in each news organization—always on an unattributable basis. I have known them to refuse to deal with a particular reporter who wrote what they considered to be unsatisfactory stories.GCHQ is even less at ease in dealing with the press. The NSA was happy recently to speak to Der Spiegel. Not so GCHQ. In eighteen years as editor I have never once (knowingly) met any official from the Cheltenham-based agency.

The head of one of the other agencies once told me: “We’re a secret organization. There’s nothing in it for us in being more open about what we do. We see no need to change.”

John Lanchester (Guardian):

There’s no need for us to advance any further down this dark road. Here are two specific proposals. The first is that the commissioners who superviseGCHQ include, alongside the senior judges who currently do the work, at least one or two public figures who are publicly known for their advocacy of human rights and government openness. The “circle of secrecy” needs to include some people who are known for not being all that keen on the idea of secrecy.

My second proposal is for a digital bill of rights. The most important proviso on the bill would be that digital surveillance must meet the same degree of explicit targeting as that used in interception of mail and landlines. No more “one end overseas” and “sigint development” loopholes to allow the mass interception of communications. There can be no default assumption that the state is allowed access to our digital life.

Bruce Schneier (Guardian):

If you do not have a security clearance, and if you have not received a National Security Letter, you are not bound by a federal confidentially requirements or a gag order. If you have been contacted by theNSA to subvert a product or protocol, you need to come forward with your story. Your employer obligations don’t cover illegal or unethical activity. If you work with classified data and are truly brave, expose what you know. We need whistleblowers. We need to know how exactly how the NSA and other agencies are subverting routers, switches, the internet backbone, encryption technologies and cloud systems. I already have five stories from people like you, and I’ve just started collecting. I want 50. There’s safety in numbers, and this form of civil disobedience is the moral thing to do.

Two, we can design. We need to figure out how to re-engineer the internet to prevent this kind of wholesale spying. We need new techniques to prevent communications intermediaries from leaking private information. We can make surveillance expensive again. In particular, we need open protocols, open implementations, open systems – these will be harder for theNSA to subvert.

Daniel Soar (LRB):

But ‘collection directly from the servers’ was what the slides said, and the implication was that the full unencrypted traffic from everyone’s favourite web services was being piped wholesale into the NSA’s databases. The implication turned out to be wrong. What happens is that an NSA analyst ‘tasks’ PRISM by nominating a ‘selector’ – meaning an email address or username – for collection and analysis. In other words, PRISM allows an NSA worker to submit a request, which is invariably granted, to monitor an individual Gmail account or Yahoo identity or Facebook profile and have all its activity sent back to the NSA. (In this context, ‘direct access’ is accurate: if a selector has been approved for monitoring, the NSA has access to it in real time.) One of the slides the Guardian didn’t disclose – it appeared a few days later in the Washington Post – showed a screenshot of the tool used to search records retrieved through PRISM. The total count of records in the database – in April, when the slide was made – was 117,675. It’s worth looking at that number. Facebook has a billion users: half of the internet-connected population of the planet has an account. The fraction of those whose full unencrypted activity the NSA was actively monitoring can be no more than 0.01 per cent. This isn’t to pretend that the NSA high-mindedly refrains from seeking access to our baby pictures or inane comments on other people’s baby pictures. But it does suggest that you don’t fill in a form to access a random Mexican’s timeline unless you expect to get something out of it.

What to read on the Russian proposal for Syria’s chemical weapons II

Another roundup:

James Fearon (Monkey Cage):

Flash forward to now, and a major part of the Serious Commentary by the President, the Secretary of State, members of Congress, and members of the commentariat is all about Whether we can trust the Russians and Assad, Whether it’s technically feasible to disassemble and dispose of Syria’s stockpiles, Whether Russia and Assad are “stalling” or “playing Obama for time”, and Whether any deal will be sufficiently “verifiable.”

What?  Those questions might make sense if the original aim had been to actually disarm Assad of chemical weapons, but that’s definitely not what the administration or, I think, practically anyone was imagining.  The concern was about his and others use of the weapons.  So on that score the question should not be whether you can implement and verify disarmament in a civil war zone—which doesn’t sound likely, or not in the short run anyway – but rather whether you can verify that he hasn’t undertaken more attacks with chemical weapons.  For some scale of attack, that’s obviously feasible, as the events of August 21 show …

So what’s with this worry about Russia and Assad tricking Obama by “stalling” and “playing for time”?  Stalling for what purpose?  So he can keep carrying out massive chemical weapons attacks while the Security Council negotiates?  If his regime is saying “we’ll disarm, accept monitors, and sign the CWC,” does it seem likely that he would then continue to carry out massive gas attacks traceable to his military?  If he did this, Obama would be in a better position than ever to get support for punitive strikes.  Basically, this reflex “I’m nobody’s fool” reaction misses the point that the Russian proposal and Assad’s apparent acceptance of the approach is already a probable win on the question of continued use of poison gas by the Assad regime.


Former weapons inspectors warned that the process could take a long time to complete — perhaps so long it could continue long after Obama leaves office. “It can be done. You are going to break a lot of crockery in doing it,” former U.N. Iraq weapons inspector David Kay said Tuesday on CNN. “If you try to do it by the book, you won’t get it done in a decade. That’s too long. You need to take this opportunity to test and see if the Syrians and the Russians are real.” Kay also described a scope for such a dismantling operation that sounded unwieldy, particularly in the midst of a civil war. “To establish inventory and positive control, using all the technical devices, seals, automatic cameras and all that you would want to, you’re talking well over 1,000 people,” he added.


The U.S. secretary of state is accompanied by a large delegation of State and Pentagon nonproliferation experts, and a representative of the U.S. intelligence community, in anticipation of detailed, arms control-style talks on how to turn the Russian offer into a concrete disarmament plan. Kerry’s delegation will present the Russians with U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment of the scope of Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure, believed to be among the world’s largest, said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. Inspecting, securing and neutralizing them in the midst of a civil war that has killed over 100,000 people will be a stiff challenge, officials acknowledge. “It is doable, but difficult and complicated,” the first official said.

Al Monitor:

If Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to take Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons out of Syria, Yadlin, the former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) intelligence chief [Amos Yadlin] told Israel’s Channel 2 late last month, “that would be an offer that could stop the attack,” the Times of Israel reported August 31. “It would be a ‘genuine achievement’ for President Obama,” the Times cited Yadlin … “Second, the timeline is important: don’t let the Syrians drag it [out] for years,” he said. “And then a very well defined mechanism: who is going to be on the ground to take care of it. UN forces, NATO forces, Russian forces…It must be a military force which is very professional, well protected, but with determination to complete the job.”

FP’s The Cable:

[UN inspectors’ report] will provide a strong circumstantial case — based on an examination of spent rocket casings, ammunition, and laboratory tests of soil, blood, and urine samples — that points strongly in the direction of Syrian government culpability. “I know they have gotten very rich samples — biomedical and environmental — and they have interviewed victims, doctors and nurses,” said the Western official. “It seems they are very happy with the wealth of evidence they got.” The official, who declined to speak on the record because of the secrecy surrounding the U.N. investigation, could not identify the specific agents detected by the inspector team, but said, “You can conclude from the type of evidence the [identity of the] author.”


American officials said the Syria debate would now unfold largely in Geneva, where the United States wants the talks to focus not only on Syria’s chemical weapons but also on securing munitions like bombs or warheads that are designed for chemical attacks. The officials acknowledged that securing the delivery systems for attacks goes far beyond what Mr. Lavrov has offered or is likely to agree to in Geneva this week … On Wednesday, White House officials refused to set a timeline for any agreement in Geneva or for a subsequent action by the United Nations on a resolution to enforce the deal. The Russians in the meantime have sent the Americans a written proposal on how to handle Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons, but administration officials said it lacked detail on how the stockpiles would be secured, verified and destroyed.

Fareed Zakaria (WaPo):

So, Obama’s aim is solely to affirm an international norm. To this end, he already has achieved something important. He has mobilized world attention, and there is now a chance, albeit small, that he might get a process in place that monitors and even destroys Syrian chemical weapons. Almost certainly he has ensured that such weapons won’t be used again by the Assad regime. That’s more than he could have achieved through airstrikes — which are unlikely to have destroyed such weapons.

David Gardner (FT):

[W]hy would Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who gasses his people to break a stalemate in a war he and his clan regard as existential and almost certainly cannot win, voluntarily surrender an arsenal he has been holding largely in reserve? Furthermore, Syria’s rationale for possessing chemical weapons the regime does not acknowledge, is to counter Israel’s stockpile of nuclear warheads that the Israelis do not acknowledge. While Syria has never signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) it now says it wants to join, Israel signed but never ratified the treaty. Israel has bombed Syria three times already this year … The Assads were schooled in a vicious academy of power, yet this initiative almost treats them as naughty boys caught doing something wrong. It is of a piece with last summer’s UN Geneva peace plan, which rests ultimately on the proposition that the Assads will volunteer for early retirement. The Geneva delusion was partly about keeping the Russians in the game. With this initiative, they look to be taking the game over.

 Borzou Daragahi (FT):

Western observers were stunned by Libya’s openness about its programme. Within weeks of a deal, western intelligence agents were allowed into the country and spent hours with Libyan scientists “who were prepared to disclose all aspects of their WMD programmes” … In contrast, weapons inspectors attempting to clear up questions about Syria’s nuclear programme were given the runaround for years. “Syria has not co-operated with the agency since June 2008 in connection with the unresolved issues related to the Deir Ezzour site and the other three locations allegedly functionally related to it,” an IAEA report concluded in November 2010. “As a consequence, the agency has not been able to make progress towards resolving the outstanding issues related to those sites.” … [T]he western notion of transparency, grounded in the Libyan experience, will clash with the Syrian regime’s vision of consistently stalling and manipulating international watchdogs.