Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category

5
Feb

China, like Germany 100 years ago, fears the established power is intent on blocking its ascent

By Gideon Rachman

The flickering black and white films of men going “over the top” in the first world war seem impossibly distant. Yet the idea that the great powers of today could never again stumble into a war, as they did in 1914, is far too complacent. The rising tensions between China, Japan and the US have echoes of the terrible conflict that broke out almost a century ago.

The most obvious potential spark is the unresolved territorial dispute between China and Japan over the islands known as the Diaoyu to the Chinese and the Senkaku to the Japanese. In recent months, the two countries’ aircraft and ships have shadowboxed near the islands. Alarmed, the US dispatched a top-level mission to Beijing and Tokyo in late October, made up of four senior members of the US foreign policy establishment: including Stephen Hadley, who ran the National Security Council for George W. Bush, and James Steinberg, who served as Hillary Clinton’s number two at the State Department.

This bipartisan US delegation made clear that a Chinese attack on the islands would trigger the security guarantees that America has made to Japan. The obvious danger is that, as in 1914, a small incident could invoke alliance commitments that lead to a wider war.

The American group was well aware of the risks. As Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor who was part of the four-person mission, puts it: “We discussed the 1914 analogy among ourselves. I don’t think any of the parties wants war, but we warned both sides about miscommunications and accidents. Deterrence usually works among rational actors, but the major players in 1914 were also rational actors.” Read more…

As published in www.ft.com on February 4, 2013

4
Feb

Will Asian countries consolidate or disrupt Arctic stability?

Sometimes a small event gives you mental whiplash. An example is Singapore’s application for permanent observer status at the Arctic Council. This is made up of the eight states that have territory within the Arctic circle: the United States, Canada, Denmark (representing Greenland and the Faroes), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. But Singapore sits at the equator, as far from either pole as it is possible to be. How can it be interested?

The answer is that in 2012, as the summer ice melted, 46 ships sailed through Arctic waters, according to Arctis, a research group, mostly from Far Eastern ports to Europe. They carried 1.2m tonnes of cargo, a third more than in 2011. This “northern route” could erode Singapore’s position as a global shipping hub. And the melting of the Greenland glaciers could threaten its existence: Singapore’s highest point, Bukit Timah, is only 164m (538ft) above sea level.

Other non-Arctic countries queuing for various kinds of seat at the table are China, India, Italy, Japan and South Korea, as well as the European Union, Greenpeace and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers. Their applications—supposed to be ruled on in May—are the clearest signs of the growing geopolitical interest in the melting north. The existing members are wondering whether the outsiders will promote stability or disruption.

Even the current arrangements have attracted excited speculation. According to the United States Geological Survey, the Arctic has 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of its gas (the gas estimate is pre-shale, so is probably too high). Competition for resources has produced a spate of books with titles like “The Arctic Gold Rush” and “The Scramble for the Arctic”. Boundary disputes rumble between America and Canada over the Beaufort Sea (see map); between Russia and America in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, and between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island and in the Lincoln Sea. Russia is modernising its northern fleet; America is thinking about putting armed coastguard vessels into its Arctic waters. The South China Sea shows how minor territorial disputes can flare dangerously, especially when natural resources are at stake. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on February 2, 2013 (from the print edition).

1
Feb

China’s campaign of cyber attacks has reached epidemic proportions. Can anything be done to stop it?

By Adam Segal

In an extraordinary story that has become depressingly ordinary, the New York Times reports that Chinese hackers “persistently” attacked the newspaper, “infiltrating its computer systems and getting passwords for its reporters and other employees.” The attacks began around the time journalists were preparing a story on the massive wealth the family of China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has allegedly accumulated, but the methods, identification, and apparent objectives of the hackers have been seen before in previous attacks on defense contractors, technology companies, journalists, academics, think tanks, and NGOs. Bloomberg, which published a story on the wealth of the family of Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, has also been reportedly attacked.  While just one case in a sweeping cyber espionage campaign that appears endemic, the attack on the Times does highlight both the willingness of Beijing lean out and shape the narrative about China as well as the vulnerability the top leadership feels about how they are portrayed.

As with many cases of cyber espionage, the break-in is assumed to have started with a spear-phishing email, a socially engineered message containing malware attachments or links to hostile websites. In the case of the attack on the security firm RSA in 2011, for example, an email with the subject line “2011 Recruitment Plan” was sent with an attached Excel file. Opening the file downloaded software that allowed attackers to gain control of the user’s computers. They then gradually expanded their access and moved into different computers and networks.

Once in, the hackers are pervasive and fairly intractable. The hackers involved in the attacks on the British defense contractor BAE Systems, for example, were reportedly on its networks for 18 months before they were discovered; during that time they monitored online meetings and technical discussions through the use of web cameras and computer microphones. According to Jill Abramson, executive editor of the Times, there was no evidence that sensitive information related to the reporting on Wen’s family was stolen, but in previous cases hackers encrypted data so that investigators had a difficult time seeing what was actually taken.

Evidence that the hackers are China-based in all of these cases is suggestive, but not conclusive. Some of the code used in the attacks was developed by Chinese hacker groups and the command and control nodes have been traced back to Chinese IP addresses. Hackers are said to clock in in the morning Beijing time, clock out in the afternoon, and often take vacation on Chinese New Year and other national holidays. But attacks can be routed through many computers, malware is bought and sold on the black market, groups share techniques, and one of the cherished clichés of hackers is that they work weird hours. Read more…

Adam Segal is the Maurice R. Greenberg senior fellow in China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on January 31, 2013.

31
Jan

By Fareed Zakaria

Egyptian protesters use camera phones on Monday to capture a burning state security armored vehicle that demonstrators commandeered during clashes with security forces nearby and brought to Tahrir Square and set it alight, in Cairo, Egypt. (Mostafa El Shemy/AP)

The chaos at the second anniversary of the Tahrir Square uprising is only the latest and most vivid illustration that Egypt’s revolution is going off the rails. It has revived talk about the failure of the Arab Spring and even some nostalgia for the old order. But Arab dictators such as Hosni Mubarak could not have held onto power without even greater troubles; look at Syria. Events in the Middle East the past two years underscore that constitutions are as vital as elections and that good leadership is crucial in these transitions.

Compare the differences between Egypt and Jordan. At the start of the Arab Spring, it appeared that Egypt had responded to the will of its people, had made a clean break with its tyrannical past and was ushering in a new birth of freedom. Jordan, by contrast, responded with a few personnel changes, some promises to study the situation and talk of reform.

But then Egypt started going down the wrong path, and Jordan made a set of wise choices.

Put simply, Egypt chose democratization before liberalization. Elections became the most important element of the new order, used in legitimizing the new government, electing a president and ratifying the new constitution. As a result, the best organized force in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, swept into power, even though, on the first ballot, only 25 percent of voters chose its presidential nominee, Mohamed Morsi. The Brotherhood was also able to dominate the drafting of the constitution. The document had many defects, including its failure to explicitly protect women’s rights — only four of the constitutional assembly’s 85 members were women — and language that seems to enshrine the traditional “character” of the Egyptian family. It also weakens protections for religious minorities such as the Bahais, who already face persecution. Read more…

Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and editor at large of Time magazine.

As published in www.washingtonpost.com on January 31, 2013.

30
Jan

Mali’s 2.5 Percent Problem: The real reason the Sahel is awash with terrorists? Rapid population growth.

By Roger Howard

As they debate how to tackle the threat of insurgency and unrest in Africa, Western leaders could do worse than to consider one of the most important, yet curiously underplayed, aspects of that troubled region — the dangers of rapid, unchecked population growth.

It is no coincidence that in recent decades Mali’s population has been growing at an unsustainable annual rate of around 3 percent. In other words, the average Malian woman has six children, while the country’s population has tripled over the past 50 years and, according to the latest U.N. estimates, is set to triple again over the next half century.

Such a drastic rate of population growth rate has profound implications. In particular it means that, in an undeveloped and largely barren land, too many people are competing for too few local resources and opportunities. Young men have limited hopes of finding employment or even sustenance and are therefore deeply susceptible to the temptation of armed criminality and insurgency, and to the lure of radical preachers who seem to offer them both a sense of purpose and scapegoats who they can blame for their woes.

It is of course an oversimplification to blame terrorism and insurgency on any single factor, but look around: The practitioners of these violent ways are also thriving in several other countries that are experiencing comparably high rates of population growth.

Pakistan, for example, is on course to become the world’s third most populous country by mid-century. It is a country in which poverty-stricken parents have been willing to surrender their children’s education to radical, Saudi-financed madrasas where they are inculcated with a radical anti-Western message. Likewise in Yemen, a major frontline in Washington’s ongoing war with al Qaeda, continues to experience one of the highest birth rates in the world, marginally higher than Mali’s. Read more…

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on January 28, 2013.

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