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Tag Archives | Saudi Arabia

The BlackBerry saga

Shoot the (BlackBerry) Messenger.

India’s pushback on the BlackBerry issue, along with U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia’s stance is challenging fundamental perceptions of electronic security and global commerce.  India and the Gulf countries, contend, and not without justification that they require the ability to intercept encrypted electronic communication in the interest of national security.

India’s history as perhaps the nation most victimized by terrorism has necessitated such a stance.  The Indian government has let it be known that it will ban BlackBerry devices in the absence of such an ability (the U.A.E. expects to enforce its ban beginning October 11, if no agreement is reached). At the core of this security dilemma is the uniqueness of RIM’s BlackBerry architecture, where its encrypted emails are stored in server farms in Canada.

There are two aspects to any government’s legitimate need to access encrypted emails — surveillance under warrant, and post-incident forensics.  As far as surveillance is concerned, governments should be able to intercept and read communication that they legitimately feel threaten the integrity of the nation and the safety of its citizens.  From a post-incident forensics standpoint, physical access to the servers that contain encrypted email will allow the state to control variables, establish a chain of custody and bring about successful prosecutions.

In the U.S., the National Security Agency (NSA) has the ability to “snoop” electronic communication under court order.  During the George W Bush Administration, the NSA had the ability to intercept electronic communication without a court order in the days immediately following 9/11 (many suspect that this is an ability that the NSA retains).

India has asked to be given the ability to decrypt BlackBerry emails, if it feels they threaten its national security.  RIM has denied the request, stating that there are no master keys to decrypt BlackBerry emails.  There are two obvious fallacies with regard to this assertion.  One, knowing U.S.’s preoccupation with security,  it would have been impossible for RIM (a foreign company, for all intents and purposes) to operate commercially in the U.S., were this true.  Two, news reports indicating that the U.S. is in negotiations with India on resolving the issue makes me question why the U.S. would want to insert itself into what should rightly be negotiations between India and RIM (or Canada).

It is the legitimate right of any democratic government to intercept communication that threatens its national security, or to secure and use as evidence any information used to undermine it.  Any talk of a settlement whereby a third party or government (such as the U.S.) decrypts BlackBerry emails for India, upon request is unwelcome.  For one, it should be fundamentally unacceptable to GoI to allow custody of its citizens’ secure communication to a third country.

The government of India should therefore accept nothing short of access to RIM’s decryption keys and a server farm physically located in India.  Anything short of this will likely be a compromise of national security.  If RIM chooses to be unyielding, it is entirely their loss.  This blogger can think of a million reasons why they will be compelled to reconsider their stance.

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The New Great Game in the Middle East

Belly dancing on a tightrope.

The Best Defense carried a guest blogpost by Daniel R. DePetris on how India and China’s increasing demand for energy resources might play out in the Arabian Peninsula and the Greater Middle East.  The writer asks, how will New Delhi and Beijing’s foreign policies be affected by their quest for energy resources in the Middle East? Will they seek to assert themselves (thereby helping share “America’s burden”) or assume a more passive role?

These are all interesting questions, but also ones that have been largely answered.  The broad contours of engagement with the Middle East have been laid out by both countries.  China, in the past, tended to regard the Middle East as too distant for it to actively engage in the muddled politics of the region.  Even at the UNSC, while China sought to leverage its position to undermine U.S. power, it hardly ever actively brought proposals to the table on resolving the region’s long-standing disputes.

China’s growing economy and quest for resources necessitated a change in its approach.  It has established energy ties with several Arab countries.  It is invested heavily in construction projects in the Peninsula.  It is engaged (albeit uneasily so) in negotiations on the Iran nuclear issue, while it clandestinely pursued to build up Saudi Arabia’s nuclear deterrent via its friend, Pakistan.  While China today is engaged in the Middle East on several levels, its motivation is primarily economic, and its relations, nascent.

Therein lies the difference between India and China.  India’s engagement with the Middle East goes beyond the economic (although, arguably, energy security today is India’s chief motivator).  India’s historical cultural ties with the region have allowed it to engage with several, often warring factions in the Middle East without being drawn into zero-sum equations in the region.  Even where economic ties are concerned, India and China differ, with India having contributed substantially to the Peninsula’s human capital.

While India’s cultural ties with Iran are well publicized,  it has also maintained enduring cultural and economic ties with Arab countries.  These ties are the reason why a 350-year old Shiva temple stands at the outskirts of Muscat, why over a million Indians live and work in the U.A.E., and why India is Egypt’s fourth-largest trading partner.  That India has managed to maintain its ties with Arab countries, while also developing strong ties with Israel is a rare success for Indian foreign policy.  Belly dancing on a tightrope can’t be  easy.  And this is something that puts it at an advantage over Beijing in the Middle East.

This is not to suggest that the scope for adjustments in foreign policy, when required by national interest, does not exist.  India’s relations with Iran, for example, have come under stress recently, with New Delhi’s decision to support  U.N. sanctions, twice, against Iran and with its decision to launch Israel’s spy satellite, Polaris.  However, none of these changes will alter the nature of China or India’s engagement with the region.  Hopes that either country will offer to share “U.S.’s burden” in the region, therefore, are unrealistic.

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Atomic outsourcing

More on the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.

The inimitable K. Subrahmanyam is on target in this Indian Express piece on the motives and implications of the China-Pakistan nuclear deal which envisages China building two 650-MW reactors in Punjab province:

The real issue is the following. According to US nuclear scientists Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman who wrote The Nuclear Express, Deng Xiaoping took a decision to proliferate to selected Marxist and Islamic countries in the early ‘80s including Pakistan, North Korea and Iran…[I]t stands to reason that the Chinese proliferation to Pakistan and proliferation by both countries to Iran were deliberate state-led acts. All subsequent Pakistani proliferation attempts to Iran and Libya were state-sanctioned, and Khan was acting with full approval of successive governments and army chiefs in Pakistan.

China managed to insert a clause aimed at India into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty draft, totally in violation of the Vienna Convention on Treaties, that the treaty would enter into force only when India which was totally opposed to the treaty, signed and ratified it. This was a challenge to India’s sovereignty.

The real issue they overlook is the Pakistani nuclear arsenal’s destabilizing effect on West Asia and the strategic gain for China from that phenomenon. On June 7 this year, The Washington Post disclosed that a former CIA officer who managed intelligence reports on Saudi Arabia has sent an uncleared manuscript to Congressional offices claiming that China supplied nuclear missiles to the kingdom early in the George W. Bush administration.

Shia Iran finds itself confronted on two sides by Sunni nuclear-armed powers. Iran has an experience of weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapon) by its Sunni leadership (Saddam Hussein). They face millennium-old Sunni hostility, al-Qaeda and its associates patronized by the Pakistan army regularly target Shias even while praying in mosques. Western analysts are right to worry about an arms race in West Asia. But the origins lie not in Iranian proliferation, but in Chinese-Pakistani proliferation. Iran is only trying to protect itself. The arms race is already on. [Indian Express]

A couple of points to further accentuate these arguments. First, the real issue here is how nuclear non-proliferation regimes have been singularly incapable of both holding China accountable to its non-proliferation commitments and dealing with nuclear proliferation perpetrated by a larger power like China.  While the West fumes and frets over a nuclear Iran or Myanmar’s so-called “nuclear brigade,” the 800-pound giant panda in the room is a China that has been entirely unapologetic about its intent to proliferate.

But then, this has been the defining characteristic of global non-proliferation regimes — they are discriminatory by design.  Recent news reports bring up China’s NSG commitments because of the impending NSG meet in New Zealand.  But there are several non-proliferation treaties that China has violated since 1990 in its decision to supply Islamabad and Pyongyang with nuclear know-how.

Second, China has, from the outset, sought to ensure India’s containment in the subcontinent.  It has pursued this by utilizing Pakistan as a tool — equipping Pakistan with nuclear weapons is just one aspect of this.  Given China’s intentions, India taking up its concerns vis-a-vis Pakistan to Beijing assumes that China can be turned around and that it can play the role of an honest broker in the subcontinent.  However, there is no precedent in the last 60 years to support this well intentioned, but misplaced leap of faith.  China can’t be an “honest-broker” when it is part of the problem.

Finally, as The Filter Coffee has previously pointed out, the impact of China’s actions will be felt most in West  Asia. Pakistan’s deterrence vis-a-vis India has, arguably, been in place since about 2000-2001.  Yet, Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons at a frantic pace.  The answer to this apparent disconnect lies in Pakistan’s nuclear commitments to Saudi Arabia.  Iran’s misplaced bravado and miscalculations have largely led to its nuclear isolation; however, the Sunni world is disquieted by Tehran aspirations and has sought refuge under a nuclear umbrella, provided by China, by way of Pakistan.

China’s reckless actions, which have already destabilized the subcontinent, now further complicate matters in an already volatile West Asia.   In addition, its defiance of non-proliferation efforts further accentuates systemic flaws in the global non-proliferation order.  These issues are of consequence to India and the rest of the world.  Myopic editorials on the matter hurt efforts in confronting the reckless behavior of a serial proliferator.

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Sauce for goose

The China-Pakistan nuclear deal: where have all the ayatollahs gone?

The Guardian carried a rather sensationalist piece by Chris McGreal on how Israel had, at one point, offered to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa.  Some in the United States are fuming at the idea that a U.S. “proxy” considered selling nuclear weapons to an “autocratic, unstable state” (South Africa was under apartheid at the time) — somehow, apparently, this undermines the U.S.’s “moral authority.”  It is another matter entirely that this report had little factual basis.

In fact, the outrage that is non-story has generated has largely obscured the very credible, and potentially significant story coming out of Beijing:

Chinese companies will build at least two 650-megawatt reactors at Chashma in Punjab, the Financial Times said.A statement posted on the website of the China National Nuclear Corporation on March 1 said the financing for two new reactors at Chashma was agreed by the two sides in February.

“Our Chinese brothers have once again lived up to our expectations,” the Financial Times quoted an unidentified Pakistani official as saying of the deal, which would help Pakistan cope with a crippling energy crisis. “They have agreed to continue cooperating with us in the nuclear energy field.” [Dawn]

Some sources indicate that the U.S. is unlikely to broach this issue with the Chinese.  In some ways, the Obama administration may feel that this alleviates its own moral burden, faced with increasing pressure from Pakistan for a civilian nuclear deal.  Of course, the administration would be missing the point — Pakistan’s desire for civilian nuclear energy is subordinate to its desire for parity with India in the eyes of the U.S. In that regard, Pakistan’s quest for a nuclear deal with the U.S. has nothing to do with its need for nuclear energy.

The implications of  specific aspects of the China-Pakistan deal will need to be further examined when more information is made available.  If their previous track records are any indication, these reactors will not be subject to IAEA safeguards or inspections.   Other questions exist — will China seek to “grandfather” the new reactors with those it built in Pakistan prior to joining the NSG?  If not, how could China possibly  ensure that an exception is made for Pakistan at the NSG in the event that the reactors are kept out of IAEA’s purview?

Purely from the perspective of strategic balance in South Asia, this deal may not alter much.  However, a couple of issues need to be considered in light of this deal. First, the impact of this deal is of greater consequence to the Middle East than it is to South Asia — particularly to Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Saudi Arabia’s “nuclear-capacity-by-proxy” strategy has paid rich dividends via Pakistan’s frantic acceleration of weapons production on its behalf.  Two 650 MW reactors will give this cozy arrangement fresh impetus, if any was needed.  By extension, this puts considerable strain on Iran’s own nuclear program.

Second, what does the deal say about non-proliferation ayatollahs in the Obama administration? Clearly, altered dynamics after the economic crisis, and China’s importance in negotiating through the nuclear issue with Iran leaves the U.S. with minimal leverage over China.  China, for its part, is using the opportunity to violate the spirit of those existing non-proliferation regimes on a technicality.  Of course, it has been doing this for ages, rather clandestinely.  Now, it does so brazenly.

There may be little that India can do to prevent the deal from going through.  In this context, the 2010 UN NPT RevCon directive to India (and Israel) to sign the NPT is absurd and deserving of contemptuous dismissal. A world order where global nuclear non-proliferation regimes attempt to shackle, curtail and impose significant costs on those willing to abide by established norms, but lack the capacity to punish those who willfully violate them in letter and spirit is unacceptable.   The necessity for India to be at the forefront of defining a new world order where verifiable, non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament is the objective, is felt more acutely now than ever.

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