Freedom & hate speech hypocrisy

Freedom per se has no value. It is what freedom is for. It is the use to which it is put. It is the sense of responsibility and restraint with which it is exercised.

THE crude and disgusting video by some American citizens mocking Prophet Muhammad has caused great anguish to Muslims around the world. Blasphemous provocations by some media mavericks in France are adding insult to injury.

Even before the sacrilege perpetrated by the video Innocence of Muslims, the deeply-wounded Muslim community was living in humiliation and helplessness.

The 65-year-old American-aided genocide in Palestine continues to rage unabated.

In Syria, Western mercenaries are leading the civil war with overt and covert help from the Western alliance. Iran is under daily threat of annihilation. In blatant violation of international law, American drone attacks continue mercilessly to murder innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

There is in most Muslim minds a perception that Islam is under attack; that Muslims are under siege; that behind the beguiling rhetoric of democracy, human rights and the war against terrorism, there is a cunning plan to re-colonise Muslim lands and seize their wealth for the insatiable appetite of Western economies.

It is in this background that the exploding Muslim rage against blasphemy must be understood.

However, understanding something does not mean justifying it. Human life is sacred and no idea and no theory can excuse the murder of innocents.

It is with sadness and shame that I note the violence and deaths resulting from the airing of the obnoxious video. Equally painful is the mindless damage to Buddhist religious places in Bangladesh because of Facebook insults to Islam.

Having said that I must state that we all have a duty to show respect to others and to not denigrate what they hold as sacred.

We have a duty to censor ourselves when we speak to others about what lies close to their hearts and souls.

Blasphemy violates the sacred; it trespasses boundaries that must exist in every civilised society; it causes pain to millions.

God and all His prophets must not be defiled. Blasphemy should be a punishable criminal offence in much the same way sedition and treason are.

Unlike free-speech advocates who place this freedom at the heart of their new abode of the sacred, I think that freedom per se has no value.

It is what freedom is for. It is the use to which it is put. It is the sense of responsibility and restraint with which it is exercised.

Blasphemy is a form of hate speech. Andrew March admits that “many in the West today use speech about Muhammad and Islam as cover for expressing hatred towards Muslims”.

Geert Wilders and makers of Innocence of Muslims are hate mongers, not human rights pioneers.

Behind hate speech is the ideology of racial or religious superiority. Hate speech amounts to discrimination.

It promotes denigratory stereotypes. It attacks basic premises of the human rights system, premises as deep as equal human dignity, respect for others and equal protection.

It must be asserted that Islamophobia is a new form of racism.

Further, the claims by Western leaders, including President Barrack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton that the constitutional principle of free speech permits no state interference is an overstatement.

In the US, the First Amendment of the Constitution has since the beginning been interpreted to mean that “prior restraints” on freedom of expression are not allowed.

But this does not exclude the legal possibility of post-event prosecutions and sanctions. For example, defamation is actionable. Contempt of Court is punishable.

For much of its history the USA has had a Sedition Act. Supreme Court decisions over the decades have vacillated between various criteria for determining the justification for invasion of free speech.

But there has always been the possibility of post-event restrictions to avoid danger to society. There is freedom of speech but sometimes no freedom after speech!

An Espionage Act exists. Whistleblowers are prosecuted. Under the Obama administration, six prosecutions under this Act were all directed against journalists exposing government wrongdoing.

At the Food and Drug Administration, they spy on their own employees’ email. At the Department of Defence any soldier who speaks about government lies in Afghanistan or Iraq is jailed. Twenty-seven laws exist to monitor social media content.

The State Department blocks Wikileaks with its firewall. The founder of Wikileaks is being hounded.

European record is even more reflective of double standards. Public order laws are used regularly in Britain and Germany to criminalise “politically incorrect” expressions or pro-Nazi ideas and to punish any comment, research or analysis that departs from the officially sanctioned version of the holocaust.

In February 2006, Austria jailed British historian David Irving for three years for denying the holocaust.

Overt and covert censorship is very much part of Western societies. Only that it is more refined; it is non-governmental; it is de-centralised. Its perpetrators are publishing houses, financiers, advertisers, interest groups, editors, publishers and other controllers of the means of communication.

Obviously free speech in the USA and Europe is not absolute save when it demonises, dehumanises and denigrates Islam and Muslims. Then it is part of the new abode of the sacred.


Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM


China, Russia sound alarm on world economy at APEC summit

By Timothy Heritage

(Reuters) – China and Russia sounded the alarm about the state of the global economy and urged Asian-Pacific countries at a summit on Saturday to protect themselves by forging deeper regional economic ties.

Chinese President Hu Jintao said Beijing would do all it could to strengthen the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) by rebalancing its economy, Asia’s biggest, to improve the chances of a global economic recovery.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said trade barriers must be smashed down as he opened the APEC summit which he is hosting on a small island linked to the Pacific port of Vladivostok by a spectacular new bridge that symbolizes Moscow’s pivotal turn to Asia away from debt-stricken Europe.

“It’s important to build bridges, not walls. We must continue striving for greater integration,” Putin told the APEC leaders, seated at a round table in a room with a view of the $1 billion cable-stayed bridge, the largest of its kind.

“The global economic recovery is faltering. We can overcome the negative trends only by increasing the volume of trade in goods and services and enhancing the flow of capital.”

Hu told business leaders before the summit the world economy was being hampered by “destabilizing factors and uncertainties” and the crisis that hit in 2008-09 was far from over. China would play its role, he said, in strengthening the recovery.

“We will work to maintain the balance between keeping steady and robust growth, adjusting the economic structure and managing inflation expectations. We will boost domestic demand and maintain steady and robust growth as well as basic price stability,” he said.

Hu spelled out plans for China, whose economic growth has slowed as Europe’s debt crisis worsened, to pump $157 billion into infrastructure investment in agriculture, energy, railways and roads.

Hu steps down as China’s leader in the autumn after a Communist Party congress, but he promised continuity and stability for the economy.

Putin, who has just begun a new six-year term as president, said on Friday Russia would be a stable energy supplier and a gateway to Europe for Asian countries, and also pledged to develop his country’s transport network.


The relative strength of China’s economy, by far the largest in Asia and second in the world to the United States, is key to Russia’s decision to look eastwards as it seeks to develop its economy and Europe battles economic problems.

APEC, which includes the United States, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Canada, groups countries around the Pacific Rim which account for 40 percent of the world’s population, 54 percent of its economic output and 44 percent of trade.

APEC members are broadly showing relatively strong growth, but boosting trade and growth is vital for the group as it tries to remove the trade barriers that hinder investment.

The European Union has been at odds with both China and Russia over trade practices it regards as limiting free competition. Cooperation in APEC is also hindered by territorial and other disputes among some of the members.

Putin, 59, limped slightly as he greeted leaders at the summit. Aides said he had merely pulled a muscle. Underlining Putin’s good health, a spokesman said he had a “very active lifestyle.”

Discussions at the two-day meeting will focus on food security and trade liberalization. An agreement was reached before the summit to slash import duties on technologies that can promote economic growth without endangering the environment.

Breakthroughs are not expected on other trade issues at the meeting, which U.S. President Barack Obama is missing. He has been attending the Democratic Party convention and Washington is being represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U.S. officials say Clinton’s trip is partly intended to assess Russia’s push to expand engagement in Asia, which parallels Washington’s own turn towards the Asia-Pacific region.

Also missing the summit was Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Putin said she had dropped out because her father had died.

(Additional reporting by Gleb Bryanski, Andrew Quinn, Katya Golubkova, Douglas Busvine, Denis Pinchuk and Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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Julian Assange condemns WikiLeaks witch-hunt

Assange calls for an end to the ‘witch-hunt’

Julian Assange emerges from Ecuador’s London embassy to call on the US to end its ‘witch-hunt’ against WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has appeared on the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy to ask US President Barack Obama to make his country “do the right thing” and “renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks”.

“The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation,” he said. “The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute … our staff or our supporters. The US must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.

To my family and to my children, who have been denied their father; forgive me. We will be reunited soon.

“There must be no more foolish talk about prosecution of media organisations, be they WikiLeaks or The New York Times.”

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange makes a statement from the balcony of the Ecuador embassy in London.“End the witch-hunt” … WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a statement from the balcony of the Ecuador embassy in London. Photo: Reuters

This was the closest Mr Assange came to asking that the US promise not to seek his extradition should he go to Sweden to face questioning over claims of sexual misconduct. He has not been charged and denies the allegations.

Earlier, one of his spokesmen had said that Mr Assange would consider accepting extradition to Sweden if the US would publicly pledge not to seek his extradition.Mr Assange and WikiLeaks outraged American authorities with the publication of thousands of confidential diplomatic cables.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures after his statement to the media.WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures after his statement to the media. Photo: AP

The WikiLeaks founder has been sheltering in the Ecuadorean embassy since June because he fears that if the UK sends him to Sweden, the Swedes might hand him over to America and he may face a potential death penalty related to espionage allegations.

Wearing a shirt and tie and sporting a new crew-cut, Mr Assange demanded that the US return to its “revolutionary values” before it lurched over a precipice into which it dragged “all of us”: “A dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under the threat of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark”.

The US “war on whistleblowers” must end, he said, making a forceful call for the release of Bradley Manning, an American soldier detained over espionage claims for allegedly leaking material to WikiLeaks.

To loud cheers from dozens of supporters – held back by more than 40 police – Mr Assange said the United Nations had found that Mr Manning had endured months of “torturous detention” at Quantico and was about to have his 815th day in jail without trial.

“The regular maximum is 120 days,” Mr Assange said, calling Mr Manning “the world’s foremost political prisoner”.

He issued a series of thank yous, including “to the people of the US, the UK, Sweden and Australia who have supported me even when their governments have not”.

He  thanked all the South American nations that have rallied behind Ecuador in outrage over a letter that has been seen as a threat by the British Foreign Office to use police to storm the Ecuadorean embassy to retrieve Assange: “Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela”.

Mr Assange also thanked supporters who had come out for a vigil in the dark last Wednesday night when police entered the building that houses the embassy.

“Inside this embassy after dark I could hear teams of police swarming up through the building through its internal fire escape”. But he said he knew supporters were watching outside.

He finished with,  “To my family and to my children, who have been denied their father; forgive me. We will be reunited soon”.

South American nations on Sunday backed Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to Mr Assange, urging dialogue to end the crisis pitting Quito against London.

Foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations, meeting in Ecuador’s biggest city Guayaquil, expressed “solidarity” with Quito and urged the parties “to pursue dialogue in search of a mutually acceptable solution,” according to a joint statement.

Karen Kissane, London with AFP  Newscribe : get free news in real time

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America’s deadly love affair with guns

BARELY a month after the deadly shooting in Colorado which killed 12 people, six more lives were lost to another maniac with a gun, this time at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Yet, like the earlier shootings, the whole episode is destined to quickly recede into the background.

For all its greatness, America is a nation that is easily distracted by the trivial at the expense of the critical, a nation that can barely hold its collective attention much beyond the 30 second sound bytes of its newscasters.

It is one of the many paradoxes of America.

Consider, for example, that the death of 3,000 people on 9/11 became the jumping-off point for more than a decade of war that cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars, whereas the 140,000 or so lives lost to gun violence since then has elicited no corresponding outrage or demand for action.

I suppose it’s always much harder to confront the enemy within than the enemy without, easier to go after strange men in far away places than face an ugly truth closer to home.

Besides, the gun culture is so much a part of the American fabric that to confront it is to challenge the way America thinks about itself.

Almost all of America’s great heroes were gunslingers or men who cut their teeth in war.

Guns are so much a part of society that pastors preach about the right to bear arms while banks give them away to good customers.

Even the courts have let stand the so called “Stand Your Ground Law” which basically gives citizens the right to use deadly force when confronted by an assailant even when such force is unnecessary.

Talk about a licence to kill.

Perhaps, there is a certain fatalism as well; a resignation that such senseless killings are the necessary price Americans must pay for their cherished right to bear arms.

What is incomprehensible, though, is the frequently used argument that a well-armed population is the best protection against government encroachment of individual freedom. It might have been an appropriate response in the aftermath of their war of independence 236 years ago, but it makes no sense today.

The gun culture is largely sustained and promoted by the all powerful gun lobby and the arms manufacturers who fund them.

Guns are a US$31bil (RM96bil) industry that brooks no interference.

Their power to destroy anyone who challenges them is legendary. Even simple calls for more stringent background checks on prospective gun buyers are enough to send them on the offensive.

Unsurprisingly, most politicians go out of their way to avoid offending the gun lobby, especially in an election year.

President Obama, for example, has offered communities affected by recent gun violence the sympathy of his heart but not the power of his office.

Even his prospective Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, one of whose signature achievements as governor of Massachusetts was a ban on assault weapons, has been cowered into silence.

And so they talk endlessly about the need for better mental healthcare for troubled young men or promise to begin a “conversation” about guns in America instead of actually taking the bull by the horns.

It is escapism and denial on a staggering scale.

The gun lobby, meanwhile, continues to push the asinine argument that it is not guns but people who kill.

Society has long recognised that cars, for example, can kill and maim if not used properly and have come up with stringent regulations replete with a licencing system to control and regulate its use.

No such rules apply to guns which can be bought legally by just about anyone and carried just about anywhere. And not just handguns but assault rifles and other military-type weapons.

There’s also no limit to how much weaponry a citizen can amass.

It is estimated that there are more than 300 million privately owned guns in the US (population 314 million), making it the most heavily armed civilian population in the world. Most Americans, however, do not own guns; the numbers are skewered because most gun owners tend to stockpile them.

And perversely, every time there is another mass shooting, gun sales actually explode, as people rush out to buy yet more guns. Indeed, gun sales rose 40% in the aftermath of the recent Colorado shooting.

The other thing about such shootings is that it shines a spotlight on the deep alienation of a rootless and disconnected generation brought up on video games, movies and music that glorify gratuitous violence and anti-social behaviour. When unstable young men, to whom killing is probably just another video game, have unlimited access to the most lethal weapons, can there be any doubt that carnage is inevitable?

We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, to see more and more heavily armed gunmen emerge from the shadows of their dark and dreary lives to carry out mass murder as the ultimate thrill, the final expression of their banal existence.

Until Americans are willing to confront the power of the gun lobby and demand that their leaders show some political courage on the issue, America will remain a killing field.



Myanmar warns Suu Kyi to stop calling nation Burma, a British colonialism legacy

YANGON: Myanmar’s authorities have ordered opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to stop calling the country “Burma”, its colonial-era name widely used to defy the former junta.

 Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi visits the Louvre Museum on Friday, June 29, 2012 in Paris. Myanmar authorities sternly urged Suu Kyi to stop calling the country ‘Burma’ and start using the name ‘Myanmar.’ (AFP Photo/Fred Dufour)

The old regime changed the country’s official name two decades ago to  Myanmar, saying the term Burma was a legacy of British colonialism and implied  the ethnically diverse land belonged only to the Burman majority.

Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party vigorously  opposed the change, decrying it as a symbolic step by the generals towards  creating a new country.

Berating her for using the name “Burma” during landmark recent visits to  Thailand and Europe, the Election Commission accused Suu Kyi and party members  of flouting a constitution they have vowed to uphold.

“As it is prescribed in the constitution that ’The state shall be known as  The Republic of the Union of Myanmar’, no one has the right to call (the  country) Burma,” it said in a statement, published in state mouthpiece The New  Light of Myanmar.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called Myanmar ’Burma’ in her speech to the World  Economic Forum in Thailand on 1 June, 2012,” it noted.

“Again, Daw Aung San Suu  Kyi called Myanmar ’Burma’ in her speeches during her Europe tour.”

“Daw” is a term of respect in Myanmar.

Global leaders also face a dilemma of what to call the country, which is  emerging from decades of army rule under the guidance of reform-minded Prime  Minister Thein Sein.

Britain’s David Cameron calls it “Burma” while recent speeches by US  President Barack Obama also referred to its colonial name.

But his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose a more diplomatic path on  a trip to the nation in December, employing the term Burma but saying it  sparingly, generally preferring to dodge controversy by saying “this country.” — AFP NST

Assets grow fast and furious!

East Asia’s wealth continues to spurt, with the hope that it will not also sputter..

BEHIND the faceless economic data of countries and regions is the wealth of individual people. But how does this relate to global conditions, and vice-versa?

One answer comes by way of the High Net Worth Individual (HNWI), as defined jointly by the French consulting firm Capgemini and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

Where net worth is generally taken as total assets minus total debts, the HNWI as conceived by Capgemini, RBC and Merrill Lynch is a person with at least US$1mil (RM3.2mil) in disposable funds to invest.

In their calculation, growth of East Asia’s personal wealth last year bypassed North America’s for the first time. In their latest World Wealth Report 2011 released just four days ago, the number of HNWIs in the “Asia-Pacific” region grew 1.6% to 3.37 million.

 Widening gap: China continues to develop rapidly, chalking up multiple achievements such as lifting nearly a billion people out of poverty within one generation. Yet some 100 million people in China still live in poverty. — EPA

However, the Asia-Pacific mega-region often presents a problem of definition, and does so clearly in this case. Australia is included but not New Zealand, nor is any country in North America which also lies in the “Pacific” portion of the Asia-Pacific.

India is also included even when it is not a Pacific nation, but not any other South Asian country which is similarly located and equally (in)eligible. The Philippines is also excluded along with five of the smallest or newest Asean countries.

Such concepts and their comparisons, particularly when defined by specific corporate interests, tend to be notional at best. Nonetheless, one trend is clear: individual and thus regional wealth in East Asia is growing faster than in North America.

But much of this new wealth also has shallower roots. East Asian economies are seeing fast gainers and almost as rapid losers among HNWIs.

Hong Kong and Singapore respectively lost 17.4% and 7.8% in HNWIs. The volatility is typical of rapidly growing regions: easier come, easier go.

Overall, East Asian wealth accumulation for investment is still behind North America’s – US$10.7tril (RM34tril) to US$11.4tril (RM36.4tril). The gap remains, but it is just as obvious that it is narrowing.

Without East Asian volatility, the gap would be narrower still. And if the number of HNWIs were considered on per capita terms, East Asian development would seem even more impressive.

That leaves a large question mark over China, with the world’s largest population at more than 1.3 billion. It has already produced the fastest and most sustained growth anywhere on the planet, with the prospect of much more to come.

China continues to develop rapidly, chalking up multiple achievements such as lifting nearly a billion people out of poverty within one generation. Yet some 100 million people in China still live in poverty, as Prime Minister Wen Jiabao conceded during the week.

In essence, much of China’s economic growth has yet to come. How far it still has to go may be taken as a measure of how much further it can still go.

Owing to its sheer size and the scale on which it operates, China’s progress will determine the fate of both greater China (the mainland, plus Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan) and much of the world.

That was the broad consensus reached during the week at both the Rio+20 summit in Brazil attended by Wen, and the G20 summit in Mexico attended by President Hu Jintao.

And that is where the sums and the conclusions, whether tentative or premature, become mired in obscurities. But if it is any consolation, the obscurities are also the realities.

When comparisons are made between (East) Asian and North American growth, investment or expenditure, the comparisons are essentially between China and the US.

And in economic growth in particular, much of China’s data is derived from trade with and investment from the US. The most important bilateral relationship in the Asia-Pacific, if not also in the world, is also growing steadily on multiple fronts: economic, but also diplomatic and strategic.

How the world’s two largest economies get along has always been important for the world. That becomes much more so when it encompasses other spheres of their relationship as well.

In Hu’s address in Los Cabos on Tuesday to an audience that included his US counterpart Barack Obama, he developed a model of bilateral relations he introduced at a China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue last month in Beijing. This consisted largely of two prongs, each with three main points.

The three key principles are for both countries to maintain strategic communication between them at the highest levels, to manage any differences between them without letting anything get out of control, and to keep any prospective interference from any quarter boxed up.

The three broad areas of interest outlined by Hu in his “hopes” are that the US will act positively in opting for a pragmatic rather than an ideological approach to relations, respect China’s legitimate sovereign interests, and stop the narrower concerns of domestic politics from upsetting ties.

These points may be taken to mean China’s preference for a full, direct relationship that avoids hiccups from occasional sentiments in the US over China’s internal political affairs, currency valuation or a lingering US tendency to protectionism.

There were at least three points of immediate agreement at Los Cabos: that both countries should develop the next phase of their relationship meaningfully, that relations were so far going well, and that more should be done to build mutual trust.

This G20 summit is seen as the second meeting between Hu and Obama this year, and the 12th in three years. It is also timed just right for Hu in reminding Obama that bilateral relations should not be subordinated to domestic pressures in a US election year, as Obama begins his campaign for re-election.

These personal exchanges are crucial, despite the passing nature of the presidencies. Hu is due to be succeeded next year, and even if Obama is re-elected, he has only another four years in office.

But formal relations between major powers are made of more durable stuff. There is scant difference between the Democratic and Republican parties on ties with China, and Beijing itself is known for worldviews that endure.

Beyond these, the summits in both Los Cabos and Rio de Janeiro took due notice of the gravity of the eurozone debt crisis.

The eurozone is after all an important leg of the world economic tripod, and its economic prospects are bound to be of concern to other regions.

At both summits, China and the US tried to shore up global confidence in the eurozone by helping to talk up prospects of recovery, or at least avoided consideration of worst-case scenarios.

The next EU summit in the following days should do more to spell out specific measures that member countries can take to that end.

Europe has the greatest responsibility in putting its collective house in order. North American and East Asian economic entities can do no more than assist in the hard decisions that Europeans have to take themselves.

For East Asia and North America at least, how well China and the US work together will determine prospects for all players in both regions. For East Asia in particular, HNWIs and standards of living generally are determined by the peace and prosperity that only close ties between major powers can offer.

Behind The Headlines By Bunn Nagara

Drones, computers new weapons of US waging shadow wars!

AP FILE – This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm’s way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

FILE - This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, burn a representation of a US flag during a rally condemning US drone strikes in tribal areas and the reopening of the NATO supply line to neighboring Afghanistan, in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Friday, June 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Pervez Masih) — AP

FILE - This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)FILE – In this Sept. 7, 2011 file photo, John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, speaks in Washington. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm’s way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) — AP

WASHINGTON — After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile.FILE - This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm’s way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.

Chart shows the number of air attacks in Pakistan — AP

It’s war in the shadows, with the U.S. public largely in the dark.

In Pakistan, armed drones, not U.S. ground troops or B-52 bombers, are hunting down al-Qaida terrorists, and a CIA-run raid of Osama bin Laden‘s hide-out was executed by a stealthy team of Navy SEALs.

In Yemen, drones and several dozen U.S. military advisers are trying to help the government tip the balance against an al-Qaida offshoot that harbors hopes of one day attacking the U.S. homeland.

In Somalia, the Horn of Africa country that has not had a fully functioning government since 1991, President Barack Obama secretly has authorized two drone strikes and two commando raids against terrorists.

In Iran, surveillance drones have kept an eye on nuclear activities while a computer attack reportedly has infected its nuclear enrichment facilities with a virus, possibly delaying the day when the U.S. or Israel might feel compelled to drop real bombs on Iran and risk a wider war in the Middle East.

The high-tech warfare allows Obama to target what the administration sees as the greatest threats to U.S. security, without the cost and liabilities of sending a swarm of ground troops to capture territory; some of them almost certainly would come home maimed or dead.

But it also raises questions about accountability and the implications for international norms regarding the use of force outside of traditional armed conflict. The White House took an incremental step Friday toward greater openness about the basic dimensions of its shadowy wars by telling Congress for the first time that the U.S. military has been launching lethal attacks on terrorist targets in Somalia and Yemen. It did not mention drones, and its admission did not apply to CIA operations.

“Congressional oversight of these operations appears to be cursory and insufficient,” said Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy issues for the Federation of American Scientists, a private group.

“It is Congress’ responsibility to declare war under the Constitution, but instead it appears to have adopted a largely passive role while the executive takes the initiative in war fighting,” Aftergood said in an interview.

That’s partly because lawmakers relinquished their authority by passing a law just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that essentially granted the White House open-ended authority for armed action against al-Qaida.

Secret wars are not new.

For decades, the CIA has carried out covert operations abroad at the president’s direction and with congressional notice. It armed the mujahedeen in Afghanistan who fought Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, for example. In recent years the U.S. military’s secretive commando units have operated more widely, even in countries where the U.S. is not at war, and that’s blurred the lines between the intelligence and military spheres.

In this shroud of secrecy, leaks to the news media of classified details about certain covert operations have led to charges that the White House orchestrated the revelations to bolster Obama’s national security credentials and thereby improve his re-election chances. The White House has denied the accusations.

The leaks exposed details of U.S. computer virus attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, the foiling of an al-Qaida bomb plot targeting U.S. aircraft, and other secret operations.

Two U.S. attorneys are heading separate FBI investigations into leaks of national security information, and Congress is conducting its own probe.

It’s not just the news media that has pressed the administration for information about its shadowy wars.

Some in Congress, particularly those lawmakers most skeptical of the need for U.S. foreign interventions, are objecting to the administration’s drone wars. They are demanding a fuller explanation of how, for example, drone strikes are authorized and executed in cases in which the identity of the targeted terrorist is not confirmed.

“Our drone campaigns already have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and 25 other mostly anti-war members of Congress wrote Obama on Tuesday.

A few dozen lawmakers are briefed on the CIA’s covert action and clandestine military activity, and some may ask to review drone strike video and be granted access to after-action reports on strikes and other clandestine actions. But until two months ago, the administration had not formally confirmed in public its use of armed drones.

In an April speech in Washington, Obama’s counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, acknowledged that despite presidential assurances of a judicious use of force against terrorists, some still question the legality of drone strikes.

“So let me say it as simply as I can: Yes, in full accordance with the law – and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives – the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones,” he said.

President George W. Bush authorized drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere, but Obama has vastly increased the numbers. According to Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal, an online publication that tracks U.S. counterterrorism operations, the U.S. under Obama has carried out an estimated 254 drone strikes in Pakistan alone. That compares with 47 strikes during the Bush administration.

In at least one case the target was an American. Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September.

According to a White House list released late last year, U.S. counterterrorism operations have removed more than 30 terrorist leaders around the globe. They include al-Qaida in East Africa “planner” Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was killed in a helicopter strike in Somalia.

The drone campaign is highly unpopular overseas.

A Pew Research Center survey on the U.S. image abroad found that in 17 of 21 countries surveyed, more than half of the people disapproved of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders in such places as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In the U.S., 62 percent approved of the drone campaign, making American public opinion the clear exception.

The U.S. use of cyberweapons, like viruses that sabotage computer networks or other high-tech tools that can invade computers and steal data, is even more closely shielded by official secrecy and, arguably, less well understood.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been a leading critic of the administration’s handling of information about using computers as a tool of war.

“I think that cyberattacks are one of the greatest threats that we face,” McCain said in a recent interview, “and we have a very divided and not very well-informed Congress addressing it.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and national security officials often talk publicly about improving U.S. defenses against cyberattack, not only on U.S. government computer systems but also against defense contractors and other private networks linked, for example, to the U.S. financial system or electrical grid. Left largely unexplained is the U.S. capacity to use computer viruses and other cyberweapons against foreign targets.

In the view of some, the White House has cut Congress out of the loop, even in the realm of overt warfare.

Sen. James Webb, D-Va., who saw combat in Vietnam as a Marine, introduced legislation last month that would require that the president seek congressional approval before committing U.S. forces in civil conflicts, such as last year’s armed intervention in Libya, in which there is no imminent security threat to the U.S.

“Year by year, skirmish by skirmish, the role of the Congress in determining where the U.S. military would operate, and when the awesome power of our weapon systems would be unleashed has diminished,” Webb said.


Online: Pew Research Center:  The Associated Press

American drone wars and state secrecy!

How Barack Obama became a hardliner?

 He was once a liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war. Now, according to revelations last week, the US president personally oversees a ‘kill list’ for drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. Then there’s the CIA renditions, increased surveillance and a crackdown on whistleblowers. No wonder Washington insiders are likening him to ‘George W Bush on steroids

Barack Obama

The revelation that Barack Obama keeps a ‘kill list’ of people to be targeted by drones has led to criticism from former supporters. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Amos Guiora knows all about the pitfalls of targeted assassinations, both in terms of legal process and the risk of killing the wrong people or causing civilian casualties. The University of Utah law professor spent many years in the Israel Defence Forces, including time as a legal adviser in the Gaza Strip where such killing strikes are common. He knows what it feels like when people weigh life-and-death decisions.

Yet Guiora – no dove on such matters – confessed he was “deeply concerned” about President Barack Obama‘s own “kill list” of terrorists and the way they are eliminated by missiles fired from robot drones around the world. He believes US policy has not tightly defined how people get on the list, leaving it open to legal and moral problems when the order to kill leaves Obama’s desk. “He is making a decision largely devoid of external review,” Guiroa told the Observer, saying the US’s apparent methodology for deciding who is a terrorist is “loosey goosey”.

Indeed, newspaper revelations last week about the “kill list” showed the Obama administration defines a militant as any military-age male in the strike zone when its drone attacks. That has raised the hackles of many who saw Obama as somehow more sophisticated on terrorism issues than his predecessor, George W Bush. But Guiora does not view it that way. He sees Obama as the same as Bush, just much more enthusiastic when it comes to waging drone war. “If Bush did what Obama has been doing, then journalists would have been all over it,” he said.

But the “kill list” and rapidly expanded drone programme are just two of many aspects of Obama’s national security policy that seem at odds with the expectations of many supporters in 2008. Having come to office on a powerful message of breaking with Bush, Obama has in fact built on his predecessor’s national security tactics.

Obama has presided over a massive expansion of secret surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency. He has launched a ferocious and unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers. He has made more government documents classified than any previous president. He has broken his promise to close down the controversial Guantánamo Bay prison and pressed on with prosecutions via secretive military tribunals, rather than civilian courts. He has preserved CIA renditions. He has tried to grab broad new powers on what defines a terrorist or a terrorist supporter and what can be done with them, often without recourse to legal process.

The sheer scope and breadth of Obama’s national security policy has stunned even fervent Bush supporters and members of the Washington DC establishment. In last week’s New York Times article that detailed the “kill list”, Bush’s last CIA director, Michael Hayden, said Obama should open the process to more public scrutiny. “Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a [Department of Justice] safe,” he told the newspaper.

Even more pertinently, Aaron David Miller, a long-term Middle East policy adviser to both Republican and Democratic administrations, delivered a damning verdict in a recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine. He wrote bluntly: “Barack Obama has become George W Bush on steroids.”

Many disillusioned supporters would agree. Jesselyn Radack was a justice department ethics adviser under Bush who became a whistleblower over violations of the legal rights of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh. Now Radack works for the Government Accountability Project, defending fellow whistleblowers. She campaigned for Obama, donated money and voted for him. Now she has watched his administration – which promised transparency and whistleblower protection – crack down on national security whistleblowers.

It has used the Espionage Act – an obscure first world war anti-spy law – six times. That is more such uses in three years than all previous presidents combined. Cases include John Kiriakou, a CIA agent who leaked details of waterboarding, and Thomas Drake, who revealed the inflated costs of an NSA data collection project that had been contracted out. “We did not see this coming. Obama has led the most brutal crackdown on whistleblowers ever,” Radack said.

Yet the development fits in with a growing level of secrecy in government under Obama. Last week a report by the Information Security Oversight Office revealed 2011 had seen US officials create more than 92m classified documents: the most ever and 16m more than the year before. Officials insist much of the growth is due to simple administrative procedure, but anti-secrecy activists are not convinced. Some estimates put the number of documents wrongly classified as secret at 90%.

“We are seeing the reversal of the proper flow of information between the government and the governed. It is probably the fundamental civil liberties issue of our time,” said Elizabeth Goitein, a national security expert at the Brennan Centre for Justice. “The national security establishment is getting bigger and bigger.”

One astonishing example of this lies high in the mountain deserts of Utah. This is the innocuously named Utah Data Centre being built for the NSA near a tiny town called Bluffdale. When completed next year, the heavily fortified $2bn building, which is self-sufficient with its own power plant, will be five times the size of the US Capitol in Washington DC. It will house gigantic servers that will store vast amounts of data from ordinary Americans that will be sifted and mined for intelligence clues. It will cover everything from phone calls to emails to credit card receipts.

Yet the UDC is just the most obvious sign of how the operations and scope of the NSA has grown since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Under Bush, a key part was a secret “warrantless wiretapping” programme that was scrapped when it was exposed. However, in 2008 Congress passed a bill that effectively allowed the programme to continue by simply legalising key components. Under Obama, that work has intensified and earlier this year a Senate intelligence committee extended the law until 2017, which would make it last until the end of any Obama second term.

“Obama did not reverse what Bush did, he went beyond it. Obama is just able to wrap it up in a better looking package. He is more liberal, more eloquent. He does not look like a cowboy,” said James Bamford, journalist and author of numerous books about the NSA including 2008’s The Shadow Factory.

That might explain the lack of media coverage of Obama’s planned changes to a military funding law called the National Defence Authorisation Act. A clause was added to the NDAA that had such a vague definition of support of terrorism that journalists and political activists went to court claiming it threatened them with indefinite detention for things like interviewing members of Hamas or WikiLeaks. Few expected the group to win, but when lawyers for Obama refused to definitively rebut their claims, a New York judge ruled in their favour. Yet, far from seeking to adjust the NDAA’s wording, the White House is now appealing against the decision.

That hard line should perhaps surprise only the naive. “He’s expanded the secrecy regime in general,” said Radack. Yet it is the drone programme and “kill list” that have emerged as most central to Obama’s hardline national security policy. In January 2009, when Obama came to power, the drone programme existed only for Pakistan and had seen 44 strikes in five years. With Obama in office it expanded to Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia with more than 250 strikes. Since April there have been 14 strikes in Yemen alone.

Civilian casualties are common. Obama’s first strike in Yemen killed two families who were neighbours of the target. One in Pakistan missed and blew up a respected tribal leader and a peace delegation. He has deliberately killed American citizens, including the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in September last year, and accidentally killed others, such as Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman.

The drone operation now operates out of two main bases in the US, dozens of smaller installations and at least six foreign countries. There are “terror Tuesday” meetings to discuss targets which Obama’s campaign manager, David Axelrod, sometimes attends, lending credence to those who see naked political calculation involved.

Yet for some, politics seems moot. Obama has shown himself to be a ruthless projector of national security powers at home and abroad, but the alternative in the coming election is Republican Mitt Romney.

“Whoever gets elected, whether it’s Obama or Romney, they are going to continue this very dangerous path,” said Radack. “It creates a constitutional crisis for our country. A crisis of who we are as Americans. You can’t be a free society when all this happens in secret.”

Death from the sky

• Popularly called drones, the flying robots used by Obama are referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles by the defence industry that makes them. The air force, however, calls them RPAs, or remotely piloted aircraft, as they are flown by human pilots, just at a great distance from where they are operating.

• The US air force alone has up to 70,000 people processing the surveillance information collected from drones. This includes examining footage of people and vehicles on the ground in target countries and trying to observe patterns in their movements.

• Drones are not just used by the military and intelligence community. US Customs and Border Protection has drones patrolling land and sea borders. They are used in drug busts and to prevent illegal cross-border traffic.

• It is assumed the Pentagon alone has 7,000 or so drones at work. Ten years ago there were fewer than 50. Their origins go back to the Vietnam war and beyond that to the use of reconnaissance balloons on the battlefield.

• Last year a diplomatic crisis with Iran broke out after a sophisticated US drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, crash-landed on Iranian soil. Iranian forces claimed it had been downed by sophisticated jamming technology.

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China’s military rise

AT A meeting of South-East Asian nations in 2010, China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi, facing a barrage of complaints about his country’s behaviour in the region, blurted out the sort of thing polite leaders usually prefer to leave unsaid. “China is a big country,” he pointed out, “and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact.” Indeed it is, and China is big not merely in terms of territory and population, but also military might. Its Communist Party is presiding over the world’s largest military build-up. And that is just a fact, too—one which the rest of the world is having to come to terms with.

That China is rapidly modernising its armed forces is not in doubt, though there is disagreement about what the true spending figure is. China’s defence budget has almost certainly experienced double digit growth for two decades. According to SIPRI, a research institute, annual defence spending rose from over $30 billion in 2000 to almost $120 billion in 2010. SIPRI usually adds about 50% to the official figure that China gives for its defence spending, because even basic military items such as research and development are kept off budget. Including those items would imply total military spending in 2012, based on the latest announcement from Beijing, will be around $160 billion. America still spends four-and-a-half times as much on defence, but on present trends China’s defence spending could overtake America’s after 2035 (see chart).

All that money is changing what the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can do. Twenty years ago, China’s military might lay primarily in the enormous numbers of people under arms; their main task was to fight an enemy face-to-face or occupy territory. The PLA is still the largest army in the world, with an active force of 2.3m. But China’s real military strength increasingly lies elsewhere. The Pentagon’s planners think China is intent on acquiring what is called in the jargon A2/AD, or “anti-access/area denial” capabilities. The idea is to use pinpoint ground attack and anti-ship missiles, a growing fleet of modern submarines and cyber and anti-satellite weapons to destroy or disable another nation’s military assets from afar.

In the western Pacific, that would mean targeting or putting in jeopardy America’s aircraft-carrier groups and its air-force bases in Okinawa, South Korea and even Guam. The aim would be to render American power projection in Asia riskier and more costly, so that America’s allies would no longer be able to rely on it to deter aggression or to combat subtler forms of coercion. It would also enable China to carry out its repeated threat to take over Taiwan if the island were ever to declare formal independence.

China’s military build-up is ringing alarm bells in Asia and has already caused a pivot in America’s defence policy. The new “strategic guidance” issued in January by Barack Obama and his defence secretary, Leon Panetta, confirmed what everyone in Washington already knew: that a switch in priorities towards Asia was overdue and under way. The document says that “While the US military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region.” America is planning roughly $500 billion of cuts in planned defence spending over the next ten years. But, says the document, “to credibly deter potential adversaries and to prevent them from achieving their objectives, the United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged.”

It is pretty obvious what that means. Distracted by campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, America has neglected the most economically dynamic region of the world. In particular, it has responded inadequately to China’s growing military power and political assertiveness. According to senior American diplomats, China has the ambition—and increasingly the power—to become a regional hegemon; it is engaged in a determined effort to lock America out of a region that has been declared a vital security interest by every administration since Teddy Roosevelt’s; and it is pulling countries in South-East Asia into its orbit of influence “by default”. America has to respond. As an early sign of that response, Mr Obama announced in November 2011 that 2,500 US Marines would soon be stationed in Australia. Talks about an increased American military presence in the Philippines began in February this year.

The uncertainty principle

China worries the rest of the world not only because of the scale of its military build-up, but also because of the lack of information about how it might use its new forces and even who is really in charge of them. The American strategic-guidance document spells out the concern. “The growth of China’s military power”, it says, “must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region.”

Officially, China is committed to what it called, in the words of an old slogan, a “peaceful rise”. Its foreign-policy experts stress their commitment to a rules-based multipolar world. They shake their heads in disbelief at suggestions that China sees itself as a “near peer” military competitor with America.

In the South and East China Seas, though, things look different. In the past 18 months, there have been clashes between Chinese vessels and ships from Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines over territorial rights in the resource-rich waters. A pugnacious editorial in the state-run Global Times last October gave warning: “If these countries don’t want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of cannons. We need to be ready for that, as it may be the only way for the disputes in the sea to be resolved.” This was not a government pronouncement, but it seems the censors permit plenty of press freedom when it comes to blowing off nationalistic steam.

Smooth-talking foreign-ministry officials may cringe with embarrassment at Global Times—China’s equivalent of Fox News—but its views are not so far removed from the gung-ho leadership of the rapidly expanding navy. Moreover, in a statement of doctrine published in 2005, the PLA’s Science of Military Strategy did not mince its words. Although “active defence is the essential feature of China’s military strategy,” it said, if “an enemy offends our national interests it means that the enemy has already fired the first shot,” in which case the PLA’s mission is “to do all we can to dominate the enemy by striking first”.

Making things more alarming is a lack of transparency over who really controls the guns and ships. China is unique among great powers in that the PLA is not formally part of the state. It is responsible to the Communist Party, and is run by the party’s Central Military Commission, not the ministry of defence. Although party and government are obviously very close in China, the party is even more opaque, which complicates outsiders’ understanding of where the PLA’s loyalties and priorities lie. A better military-to-military relationship between America and China would cast some light into this dark corner. But the PLA often suspends “mil-mil” relations as a “punishment” whenever tension rises with America over Taiwan. The PLA is also paranoid about what America might gain if the relationship between the two countries’ armed forces went deeper.

The upshot of these various uncertainties is that even if outsiders believe that China’s intentions are largely benign—and it is clear that some of them do not—they can hardly make plans based on that assumption alone. As the influential American think-tank, the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) points out, the intentions of an authoritarian regime can change very quickly. The nature and size of the capabilities that China has built up also count.

History boys

The build-up has gone in fits and starts. It began in the early 1950s when the Soviet Union was China’s most important ally and arms supplier, but abruptly ceased when Mao Zedong launched his decade-long Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s. The two countries came close to war over their disputed border and China carried out its first nuclear test. The second phase of modernisation began in the 1980s, under Deng Xiaoping. Deng was seeking to reform the whole country and the army was no exception. But he told the PLA that his priority was the economy; the generals must be patient and live within a budget of less than 1.5% of GDP.

A third phase began in the early 1990s. Shaken by the destructive impact of the West’s high-tech weaponry on the Iraqi army, the PLA realised that its huge ground forces were militarily obsolete. PLA scholars at the Academy of Military Science in Beijing began learning all they could from American think-tanks about the so-called “revolution in military affairs” (RMA), a change in strategy and weaponry made possible by exponentially greater computer-processing power. In a meeting with The Economist at the Academy, General Chen Zhou, the main author of the four most recent defence white papers, said: “We studied RMA exhaustively. Our great hero was Andy Marshall in the Pentagon [the powerful head of the Office of Net Assessment who was known as the Pentagon’s futurist-in-chief]. We translated every word he wrote.”

China’s soldiers come in from the cold

In 1993 the general-secretary of the Communist Party, Jiang Zemin, put RMA at the heart of China’s military strategy. Now, the PLA had to turn itself into a force capable of winning what the strategy called “local wars under high-tech conditions”. Campaigns would be short, decisive and limited in geographic scope and political goals. The big investments would henceforth go to the air force, the navy and the Second Artillery Force, which operates China’s nuclear and conventionally armed missiles.

Further shifts came in 2002 and 2004. High-tech weapons on their own were not enough; what mattered was the ability to knit everything together on the battlefield through what the Chinese called “informatisation” and what is known in the West as “unified C4ISR”. (The four Cs are command, control, communications, and computers; ISR stands for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; the Pentagon loves its abbreviations).

Just another corner of the network

General Chen describes the period up to 2010 as “laying the foundations of modernised forces”. The next decade should see the roll-out of what is called mechanisation (the deployment of advanced military platforms) and informatisation (bringing them together as a network). The two processes should be completed in terms of equipment, integration and training by 2020. But General Chen reckons China will not achieve full informatisation until well after that. “A major difficulty”, he says, “is that we are still only partially mechanised. We do not always know how to make our investments when technology is both overlapping and leapfrogging.” Whereas the West was able to accomplish its military transformation by taking the two processes in sequence, China is trying to do both together. Still, that has not slowed down big investments which are designed to defeat even technologically advanced foes by making “the best use of our strong points to attack the enemy’s weak points”. In 2010 the CSBA identified the essential military components that China, on current trends, will be able to deploy within ten years. Among them: satellites and reconnaissance drones; thousands of surface-to-surface and anti-ship missiles; more than 60 stealthy conventional submarines and at least six nuclear attack submarines; stealthy manned and unmanned combat aircraft; and space and cyber warfare capabilities. In addition, the navy has to decide whether to make the (extremely expensive) transition to a force dominated by aircraft-carriers, like America. Aircraft-carriers would be an unmistakable declaration of an ambition eventually to project power far from home. Deploying them would also match the expected actions of Japan and India in the near future. China may well have three small carriers within five to ten years, though military analysts think it would take much longer for the Chinese to learn how to use them well.

A new gunboat diplomacy

This promises to be a formidable array of assets. They are, for the most part, “asymmetric”, that is, designed not to match American military power in the western Pacific directly but rather to exploit its vulnerabilities. So, how might they be used?

Taiwan is the main spur for China’s military modernisation. In 1996 America reacted to Chinese ballistic-missile tests carried out near Taiwanese ports by sending two aircraft-carrier groups into the Taiwan Strait. Since 2002 China’s strategy has been largely built around the possibility of a cross-Strait armed conflict in which China’s forces would not only have to overcome opposition from Taiwan but also to deter, delay or defeat an American attempt to intervene. According to recent reports by CSBA and RAND, another American think-tank, China is well on its way to having the means, by 2020, to deter American aircraft-carriers and aircraft from operating within what is known as the “first island chain”—a perimeter running from the Aleutians in the north to Taiwan, the Philippines and Borneo (see map).

In 2005 China passed the Taiwan Anti-Secession Law, which commits it to a military response should Taiwan ever declare independence or even if the government in Beijing thinks all possibility of peaceful unification has been lost. Jia Xiudong of the China Institute of International Studies (the foreign ministry’s main think-tank) says: “The first priority is Taiwan. The mainland is patient, but independence is not the future for Taiwan. China’s military forces should be ready to repel any force of intervention. The US likes to maintain what it calls ‘strategic ambiguity’ over what it would do in the event of a conflict arising from secession. We don’t have any ambiguity. We will use whatever means we have to prevent it happening.”

If Taiwan policy has been the immediate focus of China’s military planning, the sheer breadth of capabilities the country is acquiring gives it other options—and temptations. In 2004 Hu Jintao, China’s president, said the PLA should be able to undertake “new historic missions”. Some of these involve UN peacekeeping. In recent years China has been the biggest contributor of peacekeeping troops among the permanent five members of the Security Council. But the responsibility for most of these new missions has fallen on the navy. In addition to its primary job of denying China’s enemies access to sea lanes, it is increasingly being asked to project power in the neighbourhood and farther afield.

The navy appears to see itself as the guardian of China’s ever-expanding economic interests. These range from supporting the country’s sovereignty claims (for example, its insistence on seeing most of the South China Sea as an exclusive economic zone) to protecting the huge weight of Chinese shipping, preserving the country’s access to energy and raw materials supplies, and safeguarding the soaring numbers of Chinese citizens who work abroad (about 5m today, but expected to rise to 100m by 2020). The navy’s growing fleet of powerful destroyers, stealthy frigates and guided-missile-carrying catamarans enables it to carry out extended “green water” operations (ie, regional, not just coastal tasks). It is also developing longer-range “blue water” capabilities. In early 2009 the navy began anti-piracy patrols off the Gulf of Aden with three ships. Last year, one of those vessels was sent to the Mediterranean to assist in evacuating 35,000 Chinese workers from Libya—an impressive logistical exercise carried out with the Chinese air force.

Just practising

Power grows out of the barrel of a gun

It is hardly surprising that China’s neighbours and the West in general should worry about these developments. The range of forces marshalled against Taiwan plus China’s “A2/AD” potential to push the forces of other countries over the horizon have already eroded the confidence of America’s Asian allies that the guarantor of their security will always be there for them. Mr Obama’s rebalancing towards Asia may go some way towards easing those doubts. America’s allies are also going to have to do more for themselves, including developing their own A2/AD capabilities. But the longer-term trends in defence spending are in China’s favour. China can focus entirely on Asia, whereas America will continue to have global responsibilities. Asian concerns about the dragon will not disappear.

That said, the threat from China should not be exaggerated. There are three limiting factors. First, unlike the former Soviet Union, China has a vital national interest in the stability of the global economic system. Its military leaders constantly stress that the development of what is still only a middle-income country with a lot of very poor people takes precedence over military ambition. The increase in military spending reflects the growth of the economy, rather than an expanding share of national income. For many years China has spent the same proportion of GDP on defence (a bit over 2%, whereas America spends about 4.7%). The real test of China’s willingness to keep military spending constant will come when China’s headlong economic growth starts to slow further. But on past form, China’s leaders will continue to worry more about internal threats to their control than external ones. Last year spending on internal security outstripped military spending for the first time. With a rapidly ageing population, it is also a good bet that meeting the demand for better health care will become a higher priority than maintaining military spending. Like all the other great powers, China faces a choice of guns or walking sticks.

Second, as some pragmatic American policymakers concede, it is not a matter for surprise or shock that a country of China’s importance and history should have a sense of its place in the world and want armed forces which reflect that. Indeed, the West is occasionally contradictory about Chinese power, both fretting about it and asking China to accept greater responsibility for global order. As General Yao Yunzhu of the Academy of Military Science says: “We are criticised if we do more and criticised if we do less. The West should decide what it wants. The international military order is US-led—NATO and Asian bilateral alliances—there is nothing like the WTO for China to get into.”

Third, the PLA may not be quite as formidable as it seems on paper. China’s military technology has suffered from the Western arms embargo imposed after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. It struggles to produce high-performance jet engines, for example. Western defence firms believe that is why they are often on the receiving end of cyber-attacks that appear to come from China. China’s defence industry may be improving but it remains scattered, inefficient and over-dependent on high-tech imports from Russia, which is happy to sell the same stuff to China’s local rivals, India and Vietnam. The PLA also has little recent combat experience. The last time it fought a real enemy was in the war against Vietnam in 1979, when it got a bloody nose. In contrast, a decade of conflict has honed American forces to a new pitch of professionalism. There must be some doubt that the PLA could put into practice the complex joint operations it is being increasingly called upon to perform.

General Yao says the gap between American and Chinese forces is “at least 30, maybe 50, years”. “China”, she says, “has no need to be a military peer of the US. But perhaps by the time we do become a peer competitor the leadership of both countries will have the wisdom to deal with the problem.” The global security of the next few decades will depend on her hope being realised.

Correction: The following definitions have been changed in the main table of this article: “Main battle tanks” to “Modern main battle tanks”; “Armoured infantry vehicles” to “Armoured infantry fighting vehicles”; “Intercontinental ballistic missiles” to “Intercontinental ballistic missile launchers”; “Transport helicopters” to “Heavy/medium transport helicopters”; “Transport aircraft”  to “Heavy/medium transport aircraft”; “Tanker and multi-role aircraft” to “Tanker aircraft”. Additionally, the data are from 2011 not 2010 as originally reported. These changes were made on 6th April 2012.

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Are Malaysia a target for regime change?


The forces that shape Washington’s attitude towards Malaysian politics and political leaders may have a hidden agenda.

IN his widely read blog (Feb 13, 2012), the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, criticises the politics of regime change pursued by the United States of America.

He is concerned that Malaysia may also be a target for regime change. And the US candidate to head the new regime which will be in full, complete support of US policies, he says, is none other than the Leader of the Opposition, (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim.

Why should the US government seek regime change in Malaysia when the present Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, has sought to further strengthen ties with Washington?

He has even employed a Washington-based public relations firm, Apco, to boost Malaysia’s image in the US. Najib’s personal relations with US President Barack Obama are supposed to be “excellent”.

And yet it is quite conceivable that the forces that shape Washington’s attitude towards Malaysian politics and political leaders may prefer Anwar to Najib for a number of reasons.

One, while Najib may have some rapport with formal leaders and the formal state, it is Anwar who has intimate links with the “deep state” in the US system.

It is the deep state represented by powerful interests such as the Zionist lobbies, the Christian Right, the bigwigs on Wall Street, the oil barons, the arms merchants and the media Moghuls which is in effective control.

To appreciate the distinction between the two, one has to reflect on Obama’s Cairo speech on June 4, 2009, which stated explicitly that “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements” but in reality the formal leader has had to yield to the Zionists and the Christian Right who are enthusiastic promoters of Zionist expansion at the expense of the Palestinians.

Anwar’s entry into the deep state was through his close friendship with Paul Wolfowitz, the former US Deputy Secretary of Defence and one of the staunchest champions of Zionist power.

It was mainly because of Wolfowitz that Anwar became the first chairman of the Foundation for the Future in 2005, an organisation established ostensibly to promote democracy in West Asia and North Africa (WANA), but whose real purpose is to perpetuate US-Israeli hegemony over the region.

Even before this, in 1998, in the midst of the Asian financial crisis, Anwar was espousing an IMF-type solution to the nation’s economic woes, thus revealing his political orientation.

This is why during his first two trials for abuse of power and sodomy between 1998 and 2004 and during his recent trial for sodomy, the mainstream Western media went out of its way to demand that the Malaysian authorities acquit Anwar.

Wolfowitz and former US Vice-President, Al Gore even penned a joint opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Aug 4, 2010, urging the US government to persuade the Malaysian Government to “ act with wisdom” in Anwar’s trial.

A day before he was acquitted, on Jan 8, 2012, The Washington Post in an editorial warned that “If the verdict fails that test (Malaysia’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law), there should be consequences for Mr Najib’s relations with Washington.”

This was an undisguised, unabashed attempt by one of the media pillars of the deep state to pressurise a sovereign nation to submit to its will.

Two, if Anwar is the darling of the deep state in the US, it is partly because of his stand on Israel. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Jan 26, 2012, he reiterated his support for “all efforts to protect the security of the state of Israel”.

It should be emphasised here that support for Israeli security – contrary to what he is saying now – was not contingent on “Israel respecting the aspirations of the Palestinians”.

In the interview, Israel’s security stands by itself. It is diplomatic recognition of Israel that Anwar links to Palestinian aspirations.

Placing Israel’s security on a pedestal is the sort of gesture that the deep state and Zionists the world over laud, especially if the advocate is a Muslim leader. For Israel’s security has become the justification for all its policies of occupation, annexation and aggression in the last 63 years.

Israel’s security is the albatross around the neck of the dispossessed Palestinians and other Arabs who have lost their land and dignity to the occupying power.

It is obvious that by acknowledging the primacy of Israeli security, Anwar was sending a clear message to the deep state and to Tel Aviv and Washington – that he is someone that they could trust.

In contrast, the Najib government, in spite of its attempts to get closer to Washington, remains critical of Israeli aggression and intransigence.

Najib has described the Israeli government as a “serial killer” and a “gangster”. This has incensed the deep state.

Anwar, on the other hand, told Zionist friends in Washington two years ago that he regretted using terms such as “Zionist aggression” (Jackson Diehl “Flirting with zealotry in Malaysia” The Washington Post, June 28, 2010).

Three, Anwar is the choice of the deep state for another reason which in its own reckoning is becoming almost as important as Israel. This is the rise of China and what it means for US global hegemony.

Elements within the deep state appear to have convinced Obama that China is a threat to its neighbours and to the US’s dominant role in the Asia-Pacific.

Establishing a military base in Darwin, resurrecting the US’ military alliance with the Philippines, coaxing Japan to play a more overt military role in the region, instigating Vietnam to confront China over the Spratly islands, and encouraging India to counterbalance Chinese power, are all part and parcel of the larger US agenda of encircling and containing China.

In pursuing this agenda, the US wants reliable allies – not just friends – in Asia.

In this regard, Malaysia is important because of its position as a littoral state with sovereign rights over the Straits of Malacca, which is one of China’s most critical supply routes that transports much of the oil and other materials vital for its economic development.

Will the containment of China lead to a situation where the hegemon determined to perpetuate its dominant power seek to exercise control over the Straits in order to curb China’s ascendancy?

Would a trusted ally in Kuala Lumpur facilitate such control?

The current Malaysian leadership does not fit the bill. It has sustained and deepened the bond of friendship between Malaysia and China through increased bilateral trade and investments.

China is Malaysia’s biggest trading partner globally and Malaysia is China’s biggest trading partner within Asean.

China is most appreciative of the fact that Malaysia under the late Tun Razak was the first non-communist country in South-East Asia to establish diplomatic relations with China in 1974.

When his son Najib became Prime Minister in April 2009, China was the first country outside Asean that he visited.

In a number of regional and international forums, Malaysia has maintained that China is not a threat to its neighbours and does not seek global dominance.

These are views that do not accord with the deep state’s bellicose stance towards China. It explains why the deep state may be inclined towards regime change in Kuala Lumpur.

> Dr Chandra Muzaffar is president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Professor of Global Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

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