Why is Russia in Syria ? and What next ?

The Russians came in for a variety of reasons. A review of the situation after the unexpected entry of Russia into the war zone is necessary to make any sense of what is happening. Article written by Lt General S A Hasnain for VIF.

The Russian Reasons :

  1.  Russia believes that the West was just not serious about defeating the ISIS. The US and its allies prefer a policy of drift allowing the emasculation of Bashir Assad and then effecting regime change. The larger picture of victory of the so called moderates without a simultaneous victory of the ISIS against Assad is their hope and aim which is unachievable. Besides what the eventual color of the moderates, who are supported by non ISIS groups such as Al Nusra and Al Qaida, will be is unpredictable.
  2.  Russia fears that time will only allow ISIS to emerge stronger as the US led air campaign and the creation of counter groups are both foundering.
  3. The lack of focused action would give scope to ISIS to expand its activities to Afghanistan and thence to Central Asia. With the situation in Af-Pak none too certain the ISIS is bound to take advantage of the turbulence. Its move into Central Asia will have severely negative effects on Russia’s near abroad region.
  4. The only Russian military facility yet intact in West Asia is the port city of Latakia in Syria and its hold over that for the sake of control of the West Mediterranean is essential. The fighting was getting dangerously close to this facility and therefore ‘depth’ had to be afforded to it to keep it from harm’s way. Bashir Assad’s defeat and fall would have meant the end of Russian military presence.
  5. Putin probably believed that after Ukraine where he had scored diplomatically this was the opportunity to demonstrate the resurgence of Russia. During 2008 when it had conducted operations in Ossetia the West had reported the pathetic state of equipment and weaponry of the Russian Army. It was important to break the perception that Russia was militarily regressing and weak.

A few things stand out from the above analysis.

  • It is clear that Russian interests do not look at any permanent presence but just assurance of a situation whereby Syria remains united and the port facilities are intact;
  • defeat of the ISIS is of course the main military objective. Russia knows that in such an environment where Islamic fighters are hidden in nooks and corners air power alone can never suffice.
  • It also knows that the employment of air power has to be for the purpose of weakening the capability of the ISIS and those others opposing Assad, something which has not been adequately done by the Coalition.
  • Follow up with boots on the ground is an imperative but for that it is depending on ability of Iran to muster the forces. The National Defence Forces or NDF in Syria has been in the making for over three years and it has acted as the main infantry for Syria in the civil war.
  • The one player who could make a major difference is Turkey but it is bound by its internal problems.  The Turkish – Syrian border is the route of most movement of recruits and military hardware.
  • The other contingency – will the US cooperate with Russia in the campaign to defeat the ISIS. With the backdrop of Ukraine related trust deficit, to undertake such a measure of cooperation and diplomacy is unlikely.
  • The Iran Nuclear Deal is still not cemented; will there be any effect on that. An Iran-Russia equation clearly brings out a typical cold war situation
  • One of the most significant players in West Asia is Saudi Arabia. The developing situation is obviously not to its liking as the entire region from Iran to Mediterranean will come under Russian-Iranian control and if Russia withdraws early the situation would decidedly be in favor of Iran. In the sectarian conflict with Iran such a strategic piece of territory coming under Iranian dominance is not acceptable to the Saudis. Militarily Saudi Arabia is also involved in Yemen and the war is not going too favorably for it. The Saudi-Israeli axis has the common cause of denying Iran the strategic space and in that it will have the support of the US. The US is likely to refocus attention on West Asia and a resurgence of US-Saudi ties would be on the cards for short term gains in preventing the balance of power shifting in the direction of Iran.

This is an abridged version of Russia in Syria : The Why & What Next in VIF.

Explained India and the UN Security Council

India’s goal of becoming a permanent member of the UN security council took a significant step forward. Amid protests from China, Russia and Pakistan, the UN general assembly on Monday agreed to adopt a negotiating text for security council reforms.

The UNGA concluded its 69th session on Monday and is on track to build the stage for talks to revamp the 15 member world body. It adopted a negotiating text by consensus for the long- pending Security Council reforms.

“We have got something after 23 years which is a document on the table. From now it is going to be much more in terms of what they are used to doing at the UN which is to negotiate with a text in front of us,” India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Asoke Mukerji said.

“Now the decision today puts the paper on the table and it is now for every country to negotiate on that paper giving their national positions,” Mukerjee told PTI.

India has termed the adoption of the document as “historic” and “path-breaking”.  India said the decision has put the Inter-Governmental Process formally on an “irreversible text-based negotiations path” and changed the “dynamics” of the negotiations on achieving UNSC reforms.

Here’s an explainer on what a seat in the UNSC could mean for India:

What does Monday’s decision mean?

While it is significant, Monday’s decision simply means that for the first time in “more than two decades of discussions”, as the ministry of external affairs statement said, “we can now commence text-based negotiations”. The next phase of negotiations on the text will take place next year, in the 70th session that commences on 15 September, with Jamaican ambassador Courtenay Rattray as the chair of the IGN process.

What does the UNSC currently look like?

As of now, there are 15 members on the UNSC. Five of those (mostly powers who emerged victorious in the World War II), including the US, UK, France, China and Russia are permanent members. These members have the all-important veto power (essentially a negative vote) which would mean that a “resolution or decision would not be approved”.

The remaining 10 non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms, starting 1 January. Five members are replaced each year. India has been elected as a non-permanent member to the UNSC for seven such terms, the last of which was in 2011-12.

What is India’s case for a permanent membership?

India (or any other country for that matter) would want a permanent membership to the UNSC for two reasons. First, the veto power, which India could use to defend its interests, say against Pakistan (just like Russia did last year over the civil war in Ukraine). Second, the sheer prestige associated with permanent membership of a multilateral forum. India’s elevation will also be an acknowledgment of its rise as a global power, ready to play a key role in the council’s objectives of international peace and security.

India also believes that the UNSC, which was constituted in 1945 after the World War II, does not reflect the geopolitical realities—the emergence of a multipolar world order largely thanks to the rise of developing economies like China, Brazil and India.

Also, India is the largest contributor to the UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO), with nearly 180,000 troops serving in 44 missions since it was established. India is also among the highest financial contributors to the UN, with the country making regular donations to several UN organs like the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).

Who supports India’s bid to become a permanent member?

India’s candidature as a potential permanent UNSC member has received support from a vast majority of nations. At several public occasions, four of the five permanent members have supported India’s bid. China is the only permanent member that has been ambiguous in its support for India, owing to its close ties with Pakistan. Other member states, like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Singapore, Malaysia and the whole of the African Union have also endorsed India’s bid.

And who opposes?

India’s nuclear-armed rival Pakistan has been leading the opposition to its inclusion in the UNSC’s list of permanent members. Other countries, part of an interest group called the “Uniting for Consensus” (UfC), also curiously called “The Coffee Club”, formed in 1995, are opposed to India (and the

G4’s bid) for permanent seats. Italy, Pakistan, Mexico and Egypt were founder members of the UfC. The list also includes Argentina, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and Indonesia.

How can India become a permanent member?

For now, it seems like an uphill task (unless China comes on board soon). The reform of the Security Council can only take place if two-thirds of UN member states vote in favour, along with an affirmative vote from all the permanent members, who enjoy the veto power. Effectively, even if India secures the support of two-thirds of UN members, who are present and voting, it would still need the five permanent members to not use the veto and thereby, prevent the adoption of the reform process.

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Comment on the role of major powers of the world in Central Asia

Central Asia is the core region of the Asian continent and stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. Central Asia includes five republics of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan (pop. 17 million), Kyrgyzstan (5.7 million), Tajikistan (8.0 million), Turkmenistan (5.2 million), and Uzbekistan (30 million), for a total population of about 66 million as of 2013–2014. Afghanistan (pop. 31.1 million) is also sometimes included.

Central Asia is rapidly changing after the world started taking more notice of this energy-rich region. Already the flow of capital and expansion of trade is triggering large-scale infrastructure, shipment of goods and flow of people across the region.

Owing to its energy resources and economic potential coupled with radicalism, great powers rivalry in the region has also increased. The major powers have responded in many ways to benefit from region’s strategic and energy resources. Russia is the traditional player and wishes to exert political influence. Moscow has strengthened the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and now it is aggressively pushing the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to keep Central Asia under its stiff economic control.

The main contestant in the region is China, which has been waiting in the wings, since the Soviet collapse, for fully entering into the region with multiple motives. China considers this region as a source of energy and a critical partner for stabilizing its restive Xinjiang province. China has fully used its geographical proximity to the region and while pursuing an ingenious soft-power policy, it has successfully converted every challenge in Central Asia into an opportunity. China has pursued its interest while using the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a multilateral vehicle for promoting multiple interlocking of economic, security and even cultural ties. In fact, China has rapidly challenged Russian monopoly over Central Asia’s energy exports. Massive infrastructure development including building of pipelines, roads, and railways completed in the recent years are facilitating transport of oil, gas, uranium and other minerals to the Chinese towns. Beijing’s latest Silk Road Economic Belt scheme envisages $40 billion fund for promoting infrastructure, industrial and financial co-operation from Asia to Europe through Central Asia. The countries have quickly pledged support to the ‘Silk Route Belt’ idea for deepening their ancient ties with China. Chinese-led multilateral development institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Shanghai-based BRICS New Development Bank can also be helpful to China.

During an October 2013 visit to Kazakhstan, Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined his vision of a Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB).SREB will encourage economic development in China’s restive Xinjiang region, and will boost Chinese exports to Central Asia. In addition, expanded land transit allows China to diversify its import and export channels, diffusing risk from maritime lanes still controlled by the U.S. The investment in new infrastructure also cements Chinese economic and, some fear, political influence. Part of the SREB vision is the creation of new institutions with a strong Chinese voice, like the AIIB, that could challenge existing U.S.-led alternatives. China has deployed massive diplomatic, military, academic, and business resources to support the realization of the SREB and this synergy of resources gives its vision the best likelihood of success. While the initial focus is economic, over the long term these developments could even pave the way for increased Chinese-led Asian security cooperation.

The US and its allies remained deeply engaged in the region and used it as a valuable supply hub for the Afghanistan war effort. However, against the backdrop of the crisis in Ukraine, the United States is likely to review its Central Asia strategy. Washington, it seems, is getting concerned about the situation in Central Asia. Russia’s standoff with the West, declining oil prices and overall Western sanctions is already having ripple effects on Central Asian economies, especially on the remittances from millions of migrants from the region working in Russia

The West is also worried about uncertainty looming in Central Asia stemming from the succession issue of regional leaders.

Europe is also taking a renewed interest in Central Asia following the crisis in Ukraine. The European Union is now trying to import energy directly from the source to offset fears of disruption by Russia. The EU is considering for the 3,300-kilometer Nabucco pipeline project to import gas directly from Azerbaijan and Central Asian nations to the heart of Europe. The EU has unveiled recently a new “Southern Corridor-New Silk Route” strategy for a multiple road, rail and pipeline links between the Caspian area and Europe.

Central Asia and regional and global security

The region is the northern frontier of the Islamic world hitherto unaffected by fundamentalist wave. There is a major shift to, religious pattern of society, underway in the region. Central Asia is now emerging as the next radical Islamic region. A series of serious explosions and terrorist acts by Islamists have been taking place in Kazakhstan since 2011. The area extending from Chechnya, Ferghana to Xinjiang, comprising 100 million people could form new arc of instability. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is more entrenched not only in Af-Pak region but in Central Asia as well. The IMU has strong links with al Qaeda and is now expected to get stronger in Afghanistan after the NATO’s withdrawal. Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has heavily recruited more and more Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz. China’s concerns in Xinjiang underscore the gravity of extremist threat including from ISIS.

India’s interests also center around energy,uranium,trade,investment,national security. India “Connect central asia policy 2012” sumps up all these. Our entry into Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in July at Ufa will enable us to some extent to realize these goals.

Does Project Mausam have strategic connotations?

Project ‘Mausam’ is a multi-disciplinary project that rekindles long-lost ties across nations of the Indian Ocean ‘world’ and forges new avenues of cooperation and exchange. The project, launched by India in partnership with Indian oceran states is a significant step in recording and celebrating this important phase of world history from the African, Arab and Asian-world perspectives.

The project links historic coastal sites of countries in East Africa, along the Persian Gulf, UAE, Qatar,Iran, Myanmar, and Vietnam since the earlier Harappan civilization days – more than 5,000 years ago, to the present.

The Project tries to see how the monsoon winds helped maritime trade which, in turn, encouraged interaction between these Indian Ocean-connected countries. The winds also influenced local economies, scientific quests, modern statecraft, religion,politics and cultural identity.

The project will also record how religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity helped define the boundaries of this Indian Ocean ‘world’,creating networks of religious travel and pilgrimage through centuries.

This is said to be Indian counter-strategy to China’s Maritime Silk Road in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Project Mausam is essentially a Ministry of Culture project concerning the creation of cultural links with India’s maritime neighbours. Pursued in concert with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the project’s objective is two-fold: at the macro level to re-connect with the countries of the IOR with the aim of enhancing the understanding of cultural values and concerns; and, at a more localised level, to enable an understanding of national cultures in a regional maritime milieu.
The central themes that hold Project ‘Mausam’ together are those of cultural routes that not only linked different parts of the Indian Ocean littoral, but also connected the coastal centres to their hinterlands.

India’s intention to carry out the Mausam project was announced on June 20 at the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee at Doha, Qatar.

Project Mausam is a strategic project aimed at re-establishing India’s trade and shipping links with various Indian Ocean states.

India regards Indian Ocean as the key trade route as 90 per cent of its trade by volume and 90 per cent of its oil imports take place through sea.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to three Indian Ocean countries, Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka in March shows India is following throguh on Project mausam.

The Spice Route refers to revival of old links between 31 countries in Asia and Europe with India, particularly spice-rich Kerala .

Rajya Sabha TV Asia’s geopolitics and India’s role in it

For the first time in Asian history, China, India and Japan are all rising at the same time,Chung Min Lee is South Korea’s Ambassador for National Security Affairs and has worked as a foreign policy adviser to President Park Geun-hye. A highly regarded scholar, his book on Asia’s strategic faultlines will be published later this year.

Also Transcript available at The Wire.

Who are the Rohingyas?

Rohingya are a Muslim minority in predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar, also known as Burma. They are concentrated in western Rakhine state, which is adjacent to Bangladesh, but are not recognised by the Myanmar government as an official ethnic group and are denied citizenship. Since Burma’s independence in 1948, the Rohingya have gradually been excluded and became persecuted.

Rohingya want equal rights in Myanmar. Myanmar’s government says they are not eligible for citizenship under the country’s military-drafted 1982 law, which defines full citizens as members of ethnic groups that had permanently settled in modern-day Myanmar prior to 1823.

In Myanmar, the Rohingya have limited access to education and medical care, cannot move around or practice their religion freely. So they try to flee abroad, most hoping to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia in search of jobs and security. To do that, they crowd small wooden boats nearly every day — an average of 900 people per day.

Thousands of Rohingya as well as Bangladeshis are now believed to be abandoned at sea close to the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. About 2,000 have landed on shore, but the three govts have turned away others. An estimated 6,000 are stranded at sea.

How does the Foreign Trade Policy 2015-2020 strategise to reduce our trade deficit with China?

Presently, India has a USD $48 billion trade deficit with China. Foreign Trade Policy 2015-2020 projects that if the current situation persists, then India will have an unsustainable trade deficit of US$ 60 billion with China by 2016-17.

The FTP has laid down an approach to bridge this deficit. This will require focus on increasing market access through removal of non-tariff barriers on particularly agro commodities including bovine meat , oil meals and cake, tobacco, rice fruits and vegetables etc. and seek tariff concessions in specific products of interest to India; seeking market access for Indian IT services and encourage other service sectors like tourism, films and entertainment; attracting Chinese investment to boost India’s manufacturing capacity and finally, operationalizing the five year development programme for economic and trade cooperation that lays down the roadmap for deepening and balancing bilateral economic engagement.

Of these, increased investment is likely to be a game changer in reducing India’s trade deficit with China. It is evident that Chinese companies are changing their roles from global manufacturers to global investors. For the first time in 2014, China became a net exporter of capital, with outward investment exceeding the inward investment. According to a 2015 report by Ernst and Young, outbound investment flows from China have exceeded US$ 100 billion in 2014, making China the world’s third largest overseas investor.

However, so far Chinese investments in India have been very low. Even though investment flows during 2000-01 and 2010-11 were almost negligible, for the first time, during 2011-12 and 2012-13, FDI inflows worth US$ 224 million from China were reported. Although this is way below the potential levels of investment flows from China, it is an indication of the synergies that can be realized between the two countries.

Perhaps the most effective way for China to participate in India’s infrastructure development would be through the development of industrial corridors. Since India has a large hinterland, it is important to develop industrial corridors which connect ports to manufacturing hubs. These corridors are envisaged as industrial townships with efficient road and rail connectiv­ity for freight movement to and from ports and logistics hubs, and reliable power which would provide an environment that is conducive for setting up globally competitive busi­nesses.

The government of India has conceptualized some of the industrial corridors which include the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), the Chennai- Bangalore Industrial Corridor (CBIC) and the Bangalore-Mumbai Economic Corridor (BMEC) among others. Japan has been the most active participant in this economic activity. For example, in DMIC, Japan is currently a main project stakeholder with a 26 percent share and has shown interest in collaborating for CBIC as well. The potential to develop these corridors remains largely untapped and China could be an active participant.


Saudi Arabia’s make or break moment.

With the intervention in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s military is trying to kill several birds with one stone. In the near term, it is safeguarding the country from what Riyadh perceives as an immediate military threat posed by advancing pro-Iranian Houthi rebels.

In the medium-term, it is asserting its leadership of the Arab world and consolidating its control over what has recently been a tension-ridden Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In the long term, it is redressing what it sees as a geopolitical imbalance in the Middle East between itself and Iran. In recent years, power has tilted heavily toward Iran, in no small part due to U.S. retrenchment.

The Kingdom is in a good position to kill the first two birds. And if it plays its cards right, it could make progress against the third and, as a result, shore up its status in the region at a time when other traditional powers such as Egypt, Iraq, and Syria are bleeding influence thanks to domestic conflict, political turmoil, and economic implosion. There is no shortage of risk in Saudi Arabia’s strategy, and a lot could go wrong. But the new Saudi leadership has decided that the alternative—inaction— carries intolerable costs.

Yemen has been a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia (and other Arab Gulf countries, including Oman) since the latter was founded in the 1930s. The threats of Marxism, populism, and recently, Islamist extremism with the rise of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have made Yemen a high Saudi national security risk. Today, Saudi Arabia sees danger in the Shia Houthi rebel takeover of much of Yemen, particularly territory near the Saudi border.

Last week, to drive back the Houthis, Saudi Arabia, in coordination with nine other countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Sudan, United Arab Emirates) launched a sustained air campaign and is blockading the Yemeni coast.

Saudi Arabia, which itself warned Washington about the limitations of air power in the fight against al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, knows that airstrikes alone will not fix Yemen or stop it from falling apart. But it does believe that limited military action will help neutralize the Houthi security threat by destroying the group’s offensive military capabilities—including strategic missiles, weapons depots, tanks, and fighter jets that it has seized from the Yemeni military and might use against Saudi interests—and restore the elected government of President Abed Mansour Hadi in at least part of the country, especially in the south around the port of Aden and the air base at al-Anad.

The desire and ability of a large and well-resourced Houthi movement to fight a long war should not be underestimated, especially should Iran decide to double down in Yemen and drag Saudi Arabia and its other adversaries into a war of attrition.

Saudi Arabia also is hoping that the use of force will gradually alter the internal balance of power in Yemen and compel the Houthis, who receive military, logistical, and intelligence support from Tehran, to come to the table for peace talks with the elected government and other Yemeni factions, including the Separatist Southern movement, the General People’s Congress headed by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Saudi-backed Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Al-Islah).

If Riyadh’s political-military approach proves effective, the need for a risky ground invasion will be drastically reduced. Key to the success of this two-pronged tactic, however, is the methodical dismantlement of the alliance the Houthis have formed with Saleh’s forces. This will require, among other things, a set of political and financial incentives, which Riyadh is already preparing.

The desire and ability of a large and well-resourced Houthi movement to fight a long war should not be underestimated, especially should Iran decide to double down in Yemen and drag Saudi Arabia and its other adversaries into a war of attrition. But it is likely that Tehran, whose major interests lie primarily in Iraq and Syria, will decide to deescalate and push its local allies to seek a political solution that would earn them a bigger piece of the pie (which may end up being one of the six provinces defined by the draft constitution, although without access to the sea). It is also unlikely that the Houthis would go it alone in this conflict, since this would mean waging war with most other factions in Yemen.

For his part, Saleh has denounced the Saudi-led “Operation Storm of Resolve,” but perhaps with appropriate compensation and a guarantee of political survival, he might break ranks with the Houthis. But Riyadh has shown little interest in entertaining quid pro quos from Saleh and his son, who according to Saudi-ownedAl Arabiya, approached Saudi authorities two days prior to the launch of the military campaign offering to turn against the Houthis in return for immunity for himself and his father.

The outcome of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen will have repercussions that go beyond both countries. Should Riyadh manage to pacify Yemen, it will cement its leadership in the Arab world and send a strong message to its Arab Gulf neighbors that it remains the indispensable nation within the GCC. If Yemen goes to hell, Saudi power and prestige will take a big hit. As a result, Riyadh’s ability to steer the GCC will dramatically decline.

That would not bode well for Saudi Arabia’s plans to check Iran’s rising influence in the Middle East. Saudi failure in Yemen would most probably further embolden Iran and encourage it to continue with its expansionist policies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia still enjoys a robust partnership with the United States against Iran, but the feeling in Riyadh and other Gulf capitals is that Washington has offered the Middle East to Tehran on a golden platter in return for a nuclear deal. It is a baseless and ridiculous conclusion, but that’s the perception in the region, which is now finding application in official policy.

Many have argued that Saudi Arabia should not have escalated or engaged in excessive militarism that could make matters worse for the Kingdom and the entire region. But the reality is that Saudi Arabia’s Yemen strategy—which is designed to use military force for the purpose of a political re-engineering—is more measured than its critics claim, and Iran’s reach in Yemen is more extensive and threatening than it is often assumed to be.

A firm presence in Yemen could allow Iran to grab Bab El-Mandeb, a strategic gateway for shipping energy between the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Suez Canal. With Iran already exercising some control over the Strait of Hormuz, through which nearly a quarter of the world’s petroleum passes, one can imagine the devastating consequences for Gulf security and the global economy. Instead of criticizing Riyadh, Washington should take caution.

None of this makes Riyadh’s approach less risky, but it is something that the Saudis, who are historically risk-averse, are willing to tolerate given the very costly alternative and the high potential rewards. As one prominent Arab Gulf ambassador privately summarized it, “the Houthis do not have nuclear weapons, but this is Saudi Arabia’s own Cuban Missile Crisis.

Would Washington tolerate the stationing of ballistic missiles by an adversary next door that could target American cities?” It certainly helps that Saudi Arabia is not alone in this conflict, with nine other nations joining the fight. Make no mistake about it, though: this is Saudi Arabia’s war, and the result could either make or break the Kingdom.  By Bilal Y. Saab for Foreign Affairs.

India’s non-alignment in West Asia

West Asia is on the boil, literally.  The events surrounding Yemen, which exploded within the past 48 hours, have been building up for much longer.  What was a local, civil war has morphed into a full-scale regional war, with major participation from extra-regional powers, thus making it an international conflict. In the meanwhile, the Syrian and Iraqi war theatre continues unabated, without any hope of an early end.

In an article published in a leading English daily almost exactly four years ago entitled ‘The New Great Game in West Asia’, this writer had anticipated the Shia-Sunni conflict as the major, perhaps defining , feature of West Asia; many analysts thought  I was over-reading the situation.  The Shia-Sunni feud is as old as Islam itself. At various periods in history, it has lain dormant or become explosive; it never disappeared and will not, ever.

The Shia-Sunni tensions became acute after the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, but the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 kept them in check for a while. The tensions were rekindled with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. History alone will tell us whether this was an intended or unintended consequence of that illegal war. The years 2006-8 witnessed a bloody Shia-Sunni civil war in Iraq, causing tens of thousands dead among both communities.

The feud got a big shot in the arm with the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. While the principal objective on non-regional powers in the Syrian imbroglio was to damage Iran’s clout by getting rid of the Assad regime, the regional players were mainly motivated by sectarian considerations; they wanted to replace the minority Alawite-Shia regime by a Sunni dispensation. The Syrian conflict, like the one in Yemen now, is simultaneously a civil war, regional war and an international conflict.

In the case of Yemen, two of the players, Saudi Arabia and Iran have extremely vital interests. Saudi Arabia in particular feels, with justification, directly threatened. The forced ouster of its chosen leader, Mr. Hadi, who has now taken shelter in Saudi Arabia, by the Shia Houthis, with undoubted encouragement and strongly suspected direct help from Iran, is regarded as a direct threat to the kingdom.

If Yemen comes to be controlled by the Houthis, and hence by proxy by Iran, the Saudi state will feel threatened, particularly in its eastern region which is predominantly Shia and where much of the kingdom’s oil wealth is concentrated. Add to this the fact that the Saudi regime for the most part of its history has grossly discriminated against its Shias, and the concern of the Saudis  is understandable.

Saudi Arabia has cobbled together a Sunni coalition of nine countries for airstrikes against Yemen: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan. A significant omission in this list is Oman which tends to follow a line independent of the Saudis for its own reasons. It is reported that Pakistan is actively considering joining this alliance. The US, always an indispensable power in West Asia, is furnishing logistic and intelligence support, indicating that it has been closely involved in this operation. The Saudis have declared that they will take any and all steps necessary to restore Hadi to his throne in Sanna.

In the UN Security Council lingo, this would be ‘take all necessary measures’. The Sunni coalition has categorically stated that ground intervention is not ruled out. Pakistan has been approached in this regard.  If the US is involved, can Russia and China remain far behind? The Iranians have condemned the Saudi ‘aggression’; they have called for a political solution to the Yemen conflict, but one can be confident that they too will be contemplating ‘all necessary steps’ to protect their protégés.

It will be interesting to watch the stance of the government in Iraq which is Shia dominated and very close to Tehran but which is heavily dependent on America and other Sunni Gulf states for the struggle against the Islamic State. One will not have to wait long for Baghdad’s policy in this rapidly evolving situation. Can Iraq afford to alienate either of its vital supporters in what is a crucial conflict for both? The matter will come up before the Security Council before long. Battle lines will be drawn along the Shia-Sunni divide as well as between the protagonists in the renewed, though not yet all out, East-West cold war.

China will condemn or deplore ‘interference in the internal affairs’ and along with Russia oppose any action aimed at authorising member states willing to do so to use ‘all  necessary measures’. The Horseshoe Table will witness harangues on all sides. In the meanwhile, innocent civilians will continue to be killed.  The Yemen crisis, unlike the Islamic State crisis, might have impact on the US-Iran talks on the nuclear issue and has already led to an increase in the price of crude; thus it has  global implications.

According to some diplomats from the region based in Delhi, Mr Obama has approached PM Modi to join the alliance against the Islamic State in some form. The same diplomats also believe that the recent visit of the Emir of Qatar also had the same objective. The events in Yemen will surely increase the pressure on India ‘to do something’ to join ‘this common threat’. India had displayed  wisdom in 2003 under Vajpayee’s leadership and decided against joining the  coalition against Iraq, even though the Americans had pressed us hard and there was a great deal of support for the idea within our establishment.

No doubt, the present NDA dispensation will display the same wisdom.  As one West Asian diplomat from an important country told this writer, it would be best for India not to get dragged into the ‘Middle East mess’. There are some among the strategic community who advocate India walking the talk about India being a major power regionally and globally. India is not such a power nor ought we nourish such ambitions for quite some time. The best option for India, as was mentioned by this writer four years ago, is to remain agile and practise non-alignment in the present context, and confine ourselves to pledging support for a political solution.

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan is a former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, was, until recently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Special Envoy for West Asia.

What is Monroe doctrine? Is it applicable to the world today?

The Monroe Doctrine was a US foreign policy regarding European countries in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention.President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his annual State of the Union Address to Congress.

It is applicable to international relations today. For example, the Ukraine crisis. Russia is applying the US’s Monroe Doctrine to their own “near-abroad.” The US would not tolerate Mexico or Canada making a military alliance with China or Russia. Russia’s resistance to Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) follows the same logic.

China is asserting sovereignty in the South China Sea, angering the Philippines and Vietnam. It is China’s own version of the Monroe Doctrine.

Indian strategic experts believe that the Monroe Doctrine has become ‘an article of faith’ within the Indian strategic community. In policy terms, this means building a ‘blue-water navy’ capable of high-seas combat. It also means discouraging fellow South Asian governments from ‘granting military bases and facilities to great powers.’

Experts believe that the need of the hour for India is to think big and based on India’s geostrategic centrality, India should declare an Indian Monroe Doctrine sphere encompassing the South Asia and Indian Ocean. This grand vision of great power should be the lodestar guiding all policies.

Credit: Sri Ram IAS.

Scotland’s referendum for independence from the United Kingdom

On September 18, 4.1 million people living in Scotland will vote to answer the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”. The result will be determined by a simple majority vote, and is expected to be announced on September 19.

British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to a referendum a couple of years ago when he and Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, who is also the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), signed the Edinburgh Agreement that set in motion plans for the vote.


The vote will take place on Thursday 18 September 2014. Polls will open from 7am until 10pm and voters will be faced with a single question: should Scotland be an independent country? They will only be able to vote yes or no.

On the basis of registrations, the electoral commission is expecting a high turnout of around 80% – roughly equating to 3.4 million people.

Anyone who lives and is registered to vote in Scotland will be allowed to vote – including those aged 16-17. A simple majority is needed to secure victory.

Why do Scots want independence?

In 2011, the pro-independence Scottish National Party won the 2011 Scottish Parliament election by a landslide. The Salmon-led government believes independence would make Scotland one of the world’s richest countries, thanks to its oil wealth. According to him, the Scots should be set free of the “shackles” of a London-based UK parliament.

Who are the main faces?

The official campaigns are ‘Yes Scotland’ (with party support from SNP and Scottish Greens) and the unionist ‘Better Together’ (supported by Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Conservatives). Salmond has been the primary face of the ‘Yes’ campaign, while Alistair Darling, Labour MP and former chancellor of the exchequer, has headed ‘Better Together’.

What powers does the current Scottish government have?

The Scottish Parliament came into existence in 1999, following a “yes” vote in a referendum on “devolving” some powers to a Scottish elected body. The Parliament was initially controlled by the Scottish Labour Party, but since 2007, SNP has held most of the seats. Under the terms of the Scotland Act of 1998, the Scottish government can pursue its own policies in a broad range of areas, including education, health, agriculture and environment. But the Parliament at Westminster controls foreign policy, defence, immigration, most government benefits, corporate regulation, and energy. It also sets most of the tax rates for the UK as a whole.

Will a ‘yes’ vote mean Scotland becomes a country straightaway?

No. There is still a lot of ground to cover. There will be 18 months of negotiation on a range of issues: currency, division of assets and liabilities, borders, movement of people, EU membership, and the distribution of welfare agreements. A declaration of independence would take place on March 24, 2016 (chosen because it was exactly 309 years to this date that the union was signed). An election would follow in May. Until then, current laws will stay.

What happens if people vote ‘no’?

The SNP will remain in office in Edinburgh until the Scottish parliamentary elections in May 2016. All three Westminster parties have promised more devolution to Scotland. But Queen Elizabeth II will still be head of state.

Would independent Scotland be part of the European Union?

There isn’t a precedent for the division of an EU member state, and it’s unclear whether an independent Scotland would need to reapply or automatically be granted entry.

What happens to North Sea oil?

That could be subject to years of wrangling if the ‘yes’ vote wins. In 2012, the North Sea supplied the UK with 67 per cent of its oil and 53 per cent of its gas. According to BBC, if Scotland were to get a ‘geographical share’ based on the median line, about 90 per cent of UK’s oil would be under Scottish jurisdiction.

The following is an article from mint and it covers almost all points and in a way suggests that staying united is best way a head.

The many questions facing Scotland, and Britain

There is something supremely civilized about the way the UK is dealing with the Scottish nationalist aspiration to leave the union. The vote this Thursday will be free and fair; there have been public debates arguing out rival positions; the debate is on an agreed question—to stay or to go; both sides have said they would abide by the outcome; campaigners on both sides have been able to express themselves freely; Scots have had ample time to think through the consequences of their vote; and the voters have the right to say no to separation in unambiguous terms. The English can appeal, they can observe, and they can hope. But they cannot intervene. (The televised debates for the future of Scotland were shown live on Scottish television; viewers south of the border could see excerpts in news or follow live blogs). Last week, the leaders of the three main political parties—Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats—went to Scotland to stress that the union was better together. But to many Scots the nationalist plea seemed desperate, given that opinion polls are close and some point towards a victory for the Yes vote, which would make Scotland independent.

The closest parallel to the Scottish vote is the way the Czech and Slovak people parted company. Compare it with other struggles to redraw political boundaries—Sudan, Morocco, Israel-Palestine, and more recently Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. Think, too, of the bloody birth of Timor L’este and Bangladesh, or how the former Yugoslavia disintegrated, and China’s continued disregard of Tibetan nationalism.

The Scots may choose to remain in the union. But as Neal Ascherson wrote in The New York Times in July, the Scottish vote is a test of Scottish confidence: do they believe they can be the masters of their destiny? “The question is no longer ‘can we?’ but ‘should we?’” he wrote, observing the new-found confidence among voters who may not like First Minister Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party but who find it hard to understand why they must be ruled from Westminster.

While the opinion polls are close, this is essentially a Scottish decision. Only the Scots have the vote; the English, Welsh, and Northern Irish don’t, although it is their country too, whose future shape is at stake. And civilized it has been. There has been no talk of blackmail, no bombs have been exploded, no political marches or rallies have turned violent, and except for one politician who was pelted with an egg, there has been no attack on any protagonist. There is passion on the Scottish side, and a sense of resignation on the English side. Newspapers in London have written about the vote, but the commentaries are sometimes comic, sometimes nostalgic, and sometimes helpless. There has been hardly any jingoistic rallying cry to preserve the unity of the nation. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ has been the national motto; the upper lip remains stiff. No emotions please, we are English.

To be sure, angry words have been exchanged, and there are reports of threatening language used against English people living near the border in Scotland. Eager pro-independence campaigners have told them that they would have to leave although it is neither legal nor necessary. The leader of the opposition, Edward Miliband of the Labour Party, compounded it when he said that what remains of Britain would post guards at the border that separates England and Scotland.

That border is as much actual as psychological. The first time I came to Britain was in 1979 as an exchange student, and I spent several weeks in a town near Edinburgh in Scotland. Other children at the school with me routinely said the only useful place to explode the British nuclear deterrent was on the border between England and Scotland so that the two countries would be separated forever. The English embraced Scotland when it suited them—J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels, who is against Scottish independence, is sometimes referred to as an English writer (she is Scottish) and in a famous comic video, when a little girl asks tennis star Andy Murray if he is British or Scottish, he says ‘when I win I’m British, when I lose I’m Scottish’.

Some numerate journalists have tried to figure out if an independent Scotland makes economic sense by estimating the value of future revenues of the North Sea oil, because other than that, Scotland has tourism and whiskey, but its banks are owned by British taxpayers now, and vast parts are deindustrialized. RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) has said it would move its headquarters to England, and TSB and Lloyds have said they would strengthen their English legal presence. There are fears of Scotland losing some of its tax base if businesses start to pull out. But that conversation must wait for Thursday—as should the other open questions about Scotland’s economic future.

Will Scotland retain the pound? That’s uncertain. Salmond says Scotland can, but British treasury, the Bank of England, and the rump UK government would have to agree. Would Scotland then join the euro? That isn’t so easy. Whether the European Union (EU) would readily accept a breakaway nation from one of its member-states is a question without precedent.

Salmond would like the Scots to believe that joining the EU would be easy, but neither Spain, which does not want the Basque and Catalonia to seek independence, nor Belgium, an unhappy union of Flanders and Wallonia, are particularly keen to welcome a breakaway nation. That renders the question of Scotland benefiting from EU subsidies moot. Scotland’s formal departure would have to wait another 18 months, and the situation will become fascinatingly complex if British voters elect Labour to power next year. (It is not clear if seceding Scots will have the vote in the 2015 parliamentary elections, and as per past form, Scots overwhelmingly vote for Labour in British elections). And it gets complicated further, going into unknown territory, if in 2017 Britain votes to leave the EU just when an independent Scotland applies to join the EU.

All those uncertainties will sharpen the debate over the future of the oil in the North Sea. Scotland considers the North Sea to be a Scottish lake, and the rest of Britain reminds the Scots that it is British taxpayers’ money and British companies’ investments that have enabled oil production in the sea.

If Scotland leaves, the deeper impact will be on British identity. The national flag, the Union Jack, would have to change, since the blue in the flag comes from Scotland’s Saltire. Enterprising artists have offered a range of options of what the new British flag might look like. Many other countries—Australia and New Zealand, for example—would also have to change their flags, as those flags feature the Union Jack.

While the Scots represent only 8% of the UK’s population, they have an enormous hold over the national psyche. Scotland covers a very large area—nearly half the sceptred isle. Politically, English voters have long resented Scottish sway over the vote. The virtual disappearance of Conservatives from Scotland has made it so much harder for the Tories, as Conservatives are known, to come to power on their own in the UK. The devolution of powers to Scotland has made the country self-governing in many respects. But it has a vote over how the rest of the country is to run. In 1977, Tam Dalyell, a Labour Party MP, raised the issue succinctly in what has come to be known as the “West Lothian question” in British politics: “For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate…at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”

Simply, it meant that Scottish MPs could vote for higher taxes across the UK; English MPs could not decide on critical domestic concerns in Scotland. If Scotland leaves, the question will be moot—and as William Dalrymple, himself a Scotsman, has asked passionately in The Daily Telegraph, do the Scots really want to stop running Britain?

Prevailing consensus in Scotland is markedly to the left of the Tory worldview. They resent Conservative plans to privatize parts of the National Health Service. University education in Scotland is free for Scottish students; English students have to pay, both in England and in Scotland, if they choose to study there. As a result, an English lawyer pointed out to me at a grim barbecue last weekend in London, fewer Scottish students are coming to English universities. “And therefore young Scottish people simply don’t know young English people well—the university was the great equalizer where the English and the Scots met. That is decreasing, and you see one of its effects in the referendum, where the young are overwhelmingly in favour of independence.”

While Salmond is no Braveheart and if he loses the referendum, he will not face the fate of William Wallace at the hands of Edward I after the Battle of Falkirk, the cultural and philosophical divide between Scotland and England have widened significantly.

Whether what unites them—a shared history, intertwined lives, and common imprint on the world—is strong enough to overcome the atavistic longing of an imagined community, which in Benedict Anderson’s memorable phrase all nation states are, will be known on Thursday night.


What ails India’s foreign policy?

The discussion on Rajya sabha Tv between Rajiv Sikri (Former Secretary, MEA), Lalit Mansingh (Former Foreign Secretary) ,C Rajamohan (Foreign Affairs Expert) Anchoerd by Bharat Bhushan.

The key issues discussed are Under staffing in MEA and the shift of role from MEA to PMO, quality in the IFS . Role of think tanks and universities,different  Ministries and the coordination between them in Foreign policy . This discussion will be helpful more like a revision on all that is wrong in India’s Foreign policy to those who are in touch with international relations.