Sunday, February 19, 2017

India's Real Military Problem (And It's Not Pakistan or China)


The Indian government has unveiled its budget estimates for the coming fiscal year, with defense once again in line for a 10 percent year-on-year nominal increase. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley delivered the budget 2017 speech on February 1, with the defense outlay estimated at 2.74 trillion rupees ($40.4 billion), minus pensions, which is up from the 2.49 trillion rupees ($36.8 billion) revised allocation for its current fiscal year. India's new fiscal year begins on April 1, 2017, and runs through March 31, 2018.

On its face, the bump in year-to-year defense investment appears a welcoming sign for Indian military modernization, but once the budget estimate curtain is pulled back, the actual picture indicates something more complex.

From a broad perspective, India's military modernization plan reaches across the service spectrum, requiring major capital investments in new hardware for the air, land, sea, surveillance and electronics spheres. It spans from new assault rifles for infantrymen to tactical transport aircraft and landing platform docks. The price tag for all the rearmament requirements under the Ministry of Defence's “Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan,” which runs through 2027, is more than $230 billion.

Therefore, India will need to allocate around $16 billion per annum toward the capital head portion of the defense budget (funding earmarked for hardware acquisitions) over the coming eleven years, if it intends to meet all of its modernization goals. This funding outline does not take into account the inflationary and currency value fluctuations likely to be encountered across the coming ten-year period. India's Ministry of Defence has yet to fund more than $13.5 billion in capital head expenditure in any given year since the launch of the Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan in 2012.

Increasing annual levels of equipment funding for the military to meet future modernization plans remains difficult, considering India's domestic environment.

For starters, with an election on the horizon in 2019, the current government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has one more “spare” year to pump extra money into defense before the inevitable election-year turn toward infrastructure and welfare spending in an attempt to appease voters on the electoral margins. Future governments may be less keen on promoting defense expenditure at the expense of other areas, thus rendering any long-term aspirations wobbly from the start.

Second, although India's economy continues to grow, it is not expanding fast enough to underwrite annual capital head defense budget allocations of around 1.08 trillion rupees. This is the minimum required spending level going forward that would enable the Ministry of Defence to maintain pace with modernization funding requirements.

Growth for fiscal year 2016 is already slowing year-on-year by almost 1 percent, partially due to a government demonetization initiative aimed at curbing black-market activity. The Indian economy has expanded by 10 percent of GDP just once in the past twenty years, and forecasts from the International Monetary Fund through 2021 do not project another year of double-digit growth.

Without sizable economic expansion, the government is hindered by revenue intake (allowing for increased expenditure) and political realities. Short of an outbreak of conflict—or the imminent appearance thereof—generating a popular wellspring of support for a massive expansion of the defense budget may prove politically difficult for both current and future governments.

Third, India's defense budget is squeezed by the need to recruit, train, outfit and house a 1.25-million-strong military. On top of that, Indian soldiers allege that they endure poor working conditions and inadequate care, which makes personnel welfare a crucial political component within the defense budget for politicians. Strong upticks in capital expenditure for modernization without commensurate defense budgetary increases would therefore elicit charges of funding a foreign vendor over the welfare of soldiers.

Perhaps even more problematic is the issue of financial mismanagement within the Ministry of Defence. For the past three fiscal cycles, the Indian Ministry of Defence has proven incapable of fully utilizing the tranche of funding provided to it within the capital head portion of its budget. Thus, finalized defense expenditures (the revised estimate) for the past two years resulted in topline figures equaling 95 and 91 percent of the original budget estimate (fiscal years 2014–15 and 2015–16, respectively).

Even worse, much of this unspent funding comes from the capital head—this at a time when India faces technological obsolescence across much of its military's hardware spectrum. In fiscal year 2015–16, the Ministry of Defence only spent 87 percent of its defense equipment budget allocation. It will miss the 100 percent mark again in fiscal year 2016–17, coming in at 91 percent of what had originally been budgeted.

The capital head allocation for the coming year will be around 864 billion rupees ($12.7 billion), up from the 785 billion rupees ($11.5 billion) provided in the current fiscal cycle. Spending from the capital head earmark is generally devoted to legacy equipment commitments rather than future commitments.

The 10 percent rise in the equipment investment earmark should help defray some of the defense inflation normally incurred in military projects, as well as help cover the direct government-to-government purchase of thirty-six Dassault Rafale combat aircraft from France and part of the $3 billion worth of various missiles, tank engines, rocket launchers and ammunition procured from Russia and Israel to replenish depleted Indian armed forces stocks.

But this still leaves a bevy of expensive, big-ticket projects—many of them pressing, particularly in the areas of combat aircraft, artillery, fixed-wing transports and submarines—to be contracted for and funded.

Thus, India finds itself well behind the rearmament timeline it has fixed for itself, as many of these projects take years just to wind through the labyrinthine defense procurement process and be consummated, let alone be delivered and begin operational use.

More importantly, year-on-year the final defense budget allocation—the revised estimate—comes in lower than the original budget estimate. For example, the fiscal year 2016–17 defense budget estimate figure was 2.58 trillion rupees, which was ultimately revised downward by 3.5 percent to the aforementioned total of 2.49 trillion rupees. This negative trend parallels the steady decline in India's defense investment, minus service pensions, as a share of national wealth. The latest figures show Indian defense budgets at around 1.65 percent of GDP, down from 2.19 percent in 2009–10.

So while India's economy continues to expand, its level of investment in defense is steadily declining. This decoupling comes as China's People's Liberation Army Navy continues to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean region, and Beijing invests in a network of roads, railways and pipelines linking it to India's fiercest rival, Pakistan.

All of this, of course, is fine should India expect its immediate strategic environment to remain calm across the coming decade. But the outbreak of conflict, like economic hiccups, is often unpredictable.

Thus, the picture that emerges from behind the curtain is one far less advantageous than a 10 percent year-on-year increase and one of the world's largest defense budgets would appear to indicate.

Daniel Darling is a senior international military markets analyst for Forecast International, a defense/aerospace market research company located in Newtown, Connecticut. He covers the European and Asia-Pacific Rim markets for Forecast. A graduate of Kansas State University, he has contributed commentary to Defense News, The Diplomat and World Politics Review and he has been quoted, or had his work cited, in the Financial Times, the New York Times, Flight International, Bloomberg, National Defense Magazine, among others.

Vietnam's Got a New South China Sea Strategy

Vietnam's Got a New South China Sea Strategy

The Vietnam People’s Navy is shifting from sea denial to counter-intervention.

In 1287, Gen. Omar Khan of the Yuan Dynasty led a sizeable invasion force, including numerous war junks, against Dai Viet (present day Vietnam). With battle-hardened Mongols forming the vanguard, it seemed as if the campaign would be a walkover for China. But a naval battle the following year proved otherwise. In the estuary of the Bach Dang River near Ha Long Bay, Dai Viet general Tran Hung Dao repeated the feat accomplished by the earlier, celebrated general Ngo Quyen against the Southern Han Chinese invaders, back in the year 938.

Following Ngo’s approach, Tran planted iron-tipped stakes in the river’s northern distributaries—Chanh, Kenh and Rut—and waited until high tide to lure the Mongol fleet into the shallow waters. When the tide turned, those Mongol war junks were impaled upon those stakes. The much smaller Dai Viet war canoes then swarmed around the trapped Mongol fleet and their crews hurled “mud oil” grenades—little ceramic bottles filled with naphtha and sealed with betel-nut husk, which also acted as a fuse when lit—at the immobile war junks, setting them and their hapless crews ablaze. The Battle of Bach Dang saw grievous losses to the Yuan invasion fleet.

But unlike the battle in 938, which contributed to the end of the first Chinese domination over Dai Viet, the naval victory in 1288 did not alter the bilateral relationship—the Tran Dynasty accepted Yuan suzerainty until the latter’s demise.

The two naval battles at Bach Dang, and contemporary examples in the French Indochina Wars and the Vietnam War, as well as the brief but bloody Sino-Vietnamese border war in the late 1970s, highlighted Vietnamese ingenuity in conducting asymmetric warfare against a stronger foe. Yet the Battle of Bach Dang constituted a rare example of how the Vietnamese could pull off what were essentially land-based tactics in the maritime realm. Also of note is the fact that the naval battles at Bach Dang were fought in shallow waters close to the Vietnamese shores, instead of the open waters of the South China Sea, where Mongol war junks could optimize their combat performance.

No wonder, then, that in March 1988 the Vietnamese suffered a defeat at Chinese hands during a clash in the open waters of the disputed Spratly Islands. The Chinese navy proved more than a match for the Vietnamese, unaccustomed to fighting naval battles in the open waters, who found themselves outnumbered and outgunned. That battle was an attempt to stop the Chinese from encroaching upon what Hanoi claimed as sovereign territory in the Spratlys, and with the Vietnamese forces extended so far from the Vietnamese coast and shorn of quick and substantial reinforcements, the outcome of that battle was quick and decisive. Retaking those features, forcibly snatched from Vietnamese hands following the naval skirmish, was out of the question for Hanoi’s political and military leaders.

The Vietnamese were cognizant of their naval limitations. There was no way they could repeat their ancestors’ feat at Bach Dang against the Chinese. Hence, it has been taken for granted—almost by conventional wisdom—that in view of the gaping and still growing naval asymmetry between the Chinese and Vietnamese, Hanoi must adhere to a sea-denial strategy. Essentially, sea denial envisages denying or disrupting the adversary’s access to maritime areas of interest, while denying the one practicing this strategy free use of the same space. Wu Shang-su, for instance, has argued that Vietnam, standing little chance against Chinese military aggression, has no choice but to adopt a sea denial strategy. Furthermore, he added, a sea-denial strategy fits well within the broader ambit of Hanoi’s post–Cold War policy, emphasizing such principles as independence, non-alliance and defensive defense.

There is also a fiscal imperative, given that Vietnam continues to prioritize its socioeconomic development set in motion under the “Doi Moi” (Renovation) reforms, under way since the early 1990s (also a time that saw a downsizing in the manpower of the People’s Army of Vietnam). “The state budget is still limited while we have to invest in many significant areas such as transport infrastructure, resources for socio-economic development, welfare for the people who served the country well, healthcare and education,” said then defense minister Gen. Phung Quang Thanh in December 2014, who added, “so investment in defense should be taken gradually and be suited to our capabilities. We have two parallel tasks: protecting and building the country. We do not underestimate any of them but if we focus too many resources on defense, we will lack investment in development. Because of a lack of investment in development, we will lack future resources for investment in defense.”

Yet it would be misleading to view the Vietnamese as fatalistic. They have long recognized the limits of a traditional sea-denial approach, and thus have sought to enhance their strategy to forestall Chinese military aggression in the South China Sea.

As Hanoi’s navy has just received its final Russian-built Kilo-class diesel-electric submarine, and is on the cusp of operationalizing a complete submarine squadron within 2017, the image of a sea-denial-centered Vietnamese naval strategy is still in place. While it is true that a submarine, especially a conventionally powered one, is commonly associated with sea denial, it is necessary to look beyond this attribute in the Vietnamese case. All six boats are not only equipped for sea denial in the traditional sense—torpedoes and mines, for example—but they also possess Russian-made Klub-S sea-launched land-attack cruise missiles (SLCM) that can hit targets as far away as three hundred kilometers—well within the Missile Technology Control Regime, which places restrictions on exports of certain offensive missile systems to non-signatory states.

Long-time Vietnam military watcher Carlyle Thayer has opined that Vietnam’s SLCMs would be employed against Chinese ports and airfields, such as the Sanya naval base on Hainan Island, rather than cities arrayed along the southern Chinese mainland coast. This counterforce role would still fit well within Hanoi’s strategically defensive deterrent strategy, but acquiring such an offensive capability would certainly depart from a sea-denial approach. There is no way the Vietnamese can hope to forestall Chinese aggression without the means to raise the costs for Beijing—the potential destruction wreaked upon its forward-deployed naval forces in Sanya being one such instance.


If anything, Russia’s feat during its campaign in Syria in late 2015 demonstrated that it is feasible for small naval forces to conduct limited, expeditionary force projection. The Kilo boat Rostov-on-Don became the first conventionally powered submarine to launch SLCMs in deep, inland penetration strikes. However, the Russians could manage this by leveraging on their extensive command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities, such as GLONASS satellite navigation, to allow the missiles to fly smoothly over wide swathes of the Middle Eastern land mass. The Vietnamese has a fledgling C4ISR program, focusing on unmanned aerial vehicles and remote-sensing microsatellites. Its current satellite-based targeting capability relies on commercially obtained satellite imagery—far from useful to carry out inland strikes.

Nonetheless, this shortfall would not hamper Vietnam’s counterforce ability against coastal targets. Without the strategic depth and naturally formed terrestrial features to shield it, China’s Sanya naval base is exposed to overwater missile strikes, which do not require C4ISR targeting capabilities like those for deep penetration attacks. And Hanoi is only keen to enhance the ability to punish Beijing and raise the costs of its aggression, beyond those submarines it has acquired. Referring to the Kilos, back in September 2014 a military official in Hanoi remarked that “they are not our sole weapon, but part of a number of weapons we are developing to better protect our sovereignty.”

So, to that end, Vietnam has made further moves to put into effect a more robust counter-intervention strategy that signals a departure from a traditional sea-denial approach. For example, its marines have trained for “island recapture” in the Spratlys—unthinkable back in 1988. In May 2016, Vietnam was reportedly negotiating with Russia the purchase of a third pair of Gepard 3.9–class light guided-missile frigates. What is so special about this purchase is that Hanoi wants these new ships to be armed with the Klub SLCMs. One recalls that the Russian Navy’s Caspian Flotilla corvettes—in the same size category as the Gepard 3.9s—along with the submarine Rostov-on-Don had proven that small surface warships are capable of launching SLCM attacks. Hanoi apparently caught on, and became inspired by Moscow’s feat.

The Vietnamese may not be oblivious to the fact that, like the battle of Bach Dang in 1288, any foreseeable war in the South China Sea with Beijing would result in a preordained strategic victory for the latter. But Hanoi has gradually shifted away from a traditional sea-denial strategy to one that would raise the cost of Chinese aggression. The completion of its submarine squadron in 2017 is just the first major step towards this direction. Vietnam’s modern-day versions of war canoes and “mud oil” incendiary antiship weapons now carries a wholly new significance.

Koh Swee Lean Collin is research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, based in Singapore. He specializes in research on Southeast Asian naval affairs. He would like to thank Robert Haddick, Visiting Research Fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, for his comments and suggestions.

Why China Fears (And Plans to Sink) America's Aircraft Carriers

Why China Fears (And Plans to Sink) America's Aircraft Carriers

More than twenty years ago, a military confrontation in East Asia pushed the United States and China uncomfortably close to conflict. Largely unknown in America, the event made a lasting impression on China, especially Chinese military planners. The Third Taiwan Crisis, as historians call it, was China’s introduction to the power and flexibility of the aircraft carrier, something it obsesses about to this day.

The crisis began in 1995. Taiwan’s first-ever democratic elections for president were set for 1996, a major event that Beijing naturally opposed. The sitting president, Lee Teng-hui of the Kuomintang party, was invited to the United States to speak at his alma mater, Cornell University. Lee was already disliked by Beijing for his emphasis on “Taiwanization,” which favored home rule and established a separate Taiwanese identity away from mainland China. Now he was being asked to speak at Cornell on Taiwan’s democratization, and Beijing was furious.

The Clinton administration was reluctant to grant Lee a visa—he had been denied one for a similar talk at Cornell the year before—but near-unanimous support from Congress forced the White House’s hand. Lee was granted a visa and visited Cornell in June. The Xinhua state news agency warned, “The issue of Taiwan is as explosive as a barrel of gunpowder. It is extremely dangerous to warm it up, no matter whether the warming is done by the United States or by Lee Teng-hui. This wanton wound inflicted upon China will help the Chinese people more clearly realize what kind of a country the United States is.”

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In August 1995, China announced a series of missiles exercises in the East China Sea. Although the exercises weren’t unusual, their announcement was, and there was speculation that this was the beginning of an intimidation campaign by China, both as retaliation against the Cornell visit and intimidation of Taiwan’s electorate ahead of the next year’s elections. The exercises involved the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Artillery Corps (now the PLA Rocket Forces) and the redeployment of Chinese F-7 fighters (China’s version of the MiG-21 Fishbed fighter) 250 miles from Taiwan. Also, in a move that would sound very familiar in 2017, up to one hundred Chinese civilian fishing boats entered territorial waters around the Taiwanese island of Matsu, just off the coast of the mainland.

According to, redeployments of Chinese long-range missile forces continued into 1996, and the Chinese military actually prepared for military action. China drew up contingency plans for thirty days of missile strikes against Taiwan, one strike a day, shortly after the March 1996 presidential elections. These strikes were not carried out, but preparations were likely detected by U.S. intelligence.

In March 1996, China announced its fourth major military exercises since the Cornell visit. The country’s military announced a series of missile test zones off the Chinese coastline, which also put the missiles in the approximate direction of Taiwan. In reality, China fired three missiles, two of which splashed down just thirty miles from the Taiwanese capital of Taipei and one of which splashed down thirty-five miles from Kaohsiung. Together, the two cities handled most of the country’s commercial shipping traffic. For an export-driven country like Taiwan, the missile launches seemed like an ominous shot across the country’s economic bow.

American forces were already operating in the area. The USS Bunker Hill, a Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruiser, was stationed off southern Taiwan to monitor Chinese missile tests with its SPY-1 radar system. The Japan-based USS Independence, along with the destroyers Hewitt and O’Brien and frigate McClusky, took up position on the eastern side of the island.

After the missile tests, the carrier USS Nimitz left the Persian Gulf region and raced back to the western Pacific. This was an even more powerful carrier battle group, consisting of the Aegis cruiser Port Royal, guided missile destroyers Oldendorf and Callaghan (which would later be transferred to the Taiwanese Navy), guided missile frigate USS Ford, and nuclear attack submarine USS Portsmouth. Nimitz and its escorts took up station in the Philippine Sea, ready to assist Independence. Contrary to popular belief, neither carrier actually entered the Taiwan Strait.

The People’s Liberation Army, unable to do anything about the American aircraft carriers, was utterly humiliated. China, which was just beginning to show the consequences of rapid economic expansion, still did not have a military capable of posing a credible threat to American ships just a short distance from of its coastline.

While we might never know the discussions that later took place, we know what has happened since. Just two years later a Chinese businessman purchased the hulk of the unfinished Russian aircraft carrier Riga, with the stated intention of turning it into a resort and casino. We know this ship today as China’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, after it was transferred to the PLA Navy and underwent a fifteen-year refurbishment. At least one other carrier is under construction, and the ultimate goal may be as many as five Chinese carriers.

At the same time, the Second Artillery Corps leveraged its expertise in long-range rockets to create the DF-21D antiship ballistic missile. The DF-21 has obvious applications against large capital ships, such as aircraft carriers, and in a future crisis could force the U.S. Navy to operate eight to nine hundred miles off Taiwan and the rest of the so-called “First Island Chain.”

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The Third Taiwan Crisis was a brutal lesson for a China that had long prepared to fight wars inside of its own borders. Still, the PLA Navy deserves credit for learning from the incident and now, twenty-two years later, it is quite possible that China could seriously damage or even sink an American carrier. Also unlike the United States, China is in the unique position of both seeing the value of carriers and building its own fleet while at the same time devoting a lot of time and resources to the subject of sinking them. The United States may soon find itself in the same position.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

How one Islamist party could sway Malaysia’s election

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party finds itself courted by former friends and foes, including Mahathir Mohamad and Prime Minister Najib Razak, as it emerges as a potentially deciding force in an upcoming national election


Malaysia’s biggest Islamist party, long a whipping post for the country’s liberals, is finding itself newly popular with former rivals and estranged allies as it emerges as a potential kingmaker in upcoming general elections.

Due to its hardline brand of Islam, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) has traditionally had an uneasy relationship with the country’s non-Muslim communities, such as the ethnic Chinese and Indians, but the deep influence it has enjoyed with the majority Malay community since it was founded in 1951 could make it a deciding force in the national polls, widely expected this year.

Rural Malay seats are likely to be the key battleground in those polls, in which two coalition parties – the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) and the Pakatan Harapan (Hope Coalition) – will be the main contenders.

Leaders of both coalitions are working behind the scenes to curry favour with the PAS, as the Islamist party gears up for a rally this weekend in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, in a show of strength to convince the public it is still an influential political player.

The PAS left the Hope Coalition in 2015 and became independent after a fellow coalition member, the secular Democratic Action Party, protested against its campaign to introduce a Muslim penal code called hudud. A senior leader of the Democratic Action Party – which is popular with ethnic Chinese voters – recently signalled a willingness to mend ties with the PAS, while former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, long known for his criticisms of the PAS’ ultra-conservatism, has also appeared to change tack.

Mahathir’s party, the Malaysian Indigenous People’s Party, or Bersatu, is allied to the Hope Coalition and is now leading negotiations for an electoral pact with PAS in an effort to oust the National Front and its scandal-tainted chairman, Prime Minister Najib Razak. But Najib, too, is thought to be working behind the scenes to influence the PAS, leading to questions over where its loyalties lie.

Will the PAS side with its estranged former allies in the Hope Coalition? Or will it go it alone in the elections, splitting support for the opposition and thereby helping keep Najib in power?

A reconciliation with the Hope Coalition might prove difficult. The 2015 spat was not the first time the alliance had broken down. The first split came in 2002, when the Democratic Action Party took issue with the PAS policy of turning Malaysia into an Islamic state.

Even when the two were stablemates, relations were often testy and the alliance was described by detractors – including Mahathir – as a “marriage of convenience” between two incompatible partners. Hardliners in both parties rued the compromises involved in presenting a common opposition front.

Since the 2015 breakup, and the takeover of the PAS by hardliners led by Abdul Hadi Awang, the party has underlined its independence, returning to its roots and calling for the establishment of an Islamic state with hudud and other sharia laws at its core.

“The dominant faction in PAS now sees the party as being stronger when it is independent, when it does not compromise its principles and when it holds strictly to its original principles,” political analyst Hisommudin Bakar said.

 “This is their main offer to Malaysian voters, that they are a principled party. The problem is whether Malaysians these days are necessarily attracted to ideologically driven parties,” said Hisommudin, the executive director of think tank Ilham Centre.

This insistence on principles did not stop PAS president Abdul Hadi from sharing the stage with Najib at two high-profile Islamic-themed events (a dinner for the Al-Azhar University alumni association in 2015 and a Rohingya solidarity rally in 2016). Those appearances came despite the cloud following Najib, who is at the centre of a multibillion ringgit fraud probe at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Investigators have alleged that US$681 million in transfers from the fund were made to Najib’s personal bank accounts in 2013. He says these were “personal donations” from the Saudi royal family and has denied any wrongdoing.

Leaders from Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) – a Malay supremacist party that is the biggest player in the National Front coalition – claim Najib’s meetings with Abdul Hadi were aimed at rapprochement in the name of Malay-Muslim solidarity. However, there have been suggestions (consistently denied by the PAS) that the two parties – historical rivals for the ethnic Malay vote – are seeking an alliance.

 “Absolutely not. We are 100 per cent going to fight Umno in the next general election,” PAS election director Mustafa Ali said.

Mustafa stressed that PAS was committed to being an opposition party and was pursuing talks with Hope Coalition members that aimed to ensure only one opposition candidate stood against the National Front in each constituency. Some 222 parliamentary and 505 state legislative seats are to be contested.

Kadir Jasin, a Bersatu supreme council member, confirmed talks were ongoing with PAS representatives and said PAS activists appeared keen to work with the Hope Coalition.

Yet a PAS party source said senior leaders such as Abdul Hadi had signalled they wanted to be independent of either coalition.

If so, that could play into the hands of the National Front. In what many see as an attempt to scupper reconciliation between the PAS and the Hope Coalition, the Umno-owned daily newspaper Utusan Malaysia has recently played up stories of PAS accusing the Democratic Action Party of interfering in Islamic affairs in the island city state of Penang.

“It is in Umno’s interest that PAS remains independent and not part of the [Hope Coalition],” the PAS source said.

This is because historically, the National Front has always prevailed in contests where the opposition vote is split between multiple candidates.

However, Hisomuddin at the Ilham Centre, said multi-candidate contests would not necessarily benefit the National Front. “Our surveys show that undecided voters or ‘fence sitters’ make up about 40 per cent of the electorate in any constituency. These voters are interested in coalitions that are Malaysia-centric and are strong enough to form a government.”

Sheridin mahavera

Mystery Behind Kim Jong-Nam’s Assassination – Analysis

Mystery Behind Kim Jong-Nam’s Assassination – Analysis

North Korea has been in the news, almost always for the wrong reasons. Besides conducting nuclear tests, missile launches, merciless executions of suspects and rampant human rights violations, now the news come that Kim Jong-nam, North Korea’s current ruler Kim Jong-un’s elder half-brother was assassinated in a Malaysian airport.

This does not surprise Korea watchers, given past history dating back to the Chosun dynasty when eliminating a family member to remain in power was not uncommon. But this time, the Kim Jong-nam’s killing has deeper significance in the context of regime survival, or that what is believed. The manner of his killing opens up many worms on the internal situation in North Korea.

Early Childhood

First, who was Kim Jong-nam? He was the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and elder half-brother of current leader Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-nam was born in May 1971 (some reports say 10 June 1970) in Pyongyang to father Kim Jong-Il and mother Song Hye-rim. She was a popular film actress and the daughter of South Korean communist intellectual who opted for North Korea during the Korean War. She was already married to another man with a child and four or five years elder to Kim Jong-Il when she began a romantic relationship with him. As Korea is a conservative society, Kim Jong-Il kept this sordid relationship secret even with his father Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-nam was already born when Kim Jong-Il was declared the candidate to succeed his father and therefore the need to keep the relationship a secret was felt. Most of his childhood was spent with his maternal grandmother and maternal aunt, Song Hye-rang, who was an author and widow with two kids of her own. Kim Jong-nam finally forged a relationship with his grandfather Kim Il-sung when his birth could no longer be kept secret. Song Hye-rim died in Moscow in 2002.

In 1979, Kim Jong-nam started studying overseas in Russia and Switzerland and returned to North Korea after a decade. His exposure to different political and economic systems led him to question the system back home, which in turn strained his relations with his father. He was even threatened of being sent to a political prison camp to work in a coal mine. This experience led Kim Jong-Il not to ever make him his successor. When the country faced drought in the 1990s, the junior Kim was involved in auditing the state’s finance and witnessed public executions of factory managers accused of stealing state money. This was a shocker and disillusioned him. But the junior Kim was flush with money himself, which made him lead a lavish lifestyle, visiting casinos and thereby earning the name of being a “party boy”.

Available information suggests that Kim Jong-Il was fond of his son when he was sent overseas for studying but his attitude towards him changed when he noticed progressive ideas in him which he had acquired during his stay overseas. By the late 1970s, Kim Jong-Il married Ko Yong-hui, an ethnic Korean repatriated from Japan and a dancer in the prestigious Mansudae Art Troupe. Finally the senior Kim set up a household with Ko and fathered three children with her, the middle one being the current leader Kim Jong-un. So, the void left by Kim Jong-nam when he left overseas for study was filled by Ko and the three children.

Unlike Kim Jong-Il’s other wives, Ko took interest in affairs of the state. She was ambitious and befriended close aides and generals. The first family politics started surfacing when Kim Jong-nam returned to North Korea in late 1980s and rumours started spreading on the question of succession, which child shall be positioned to succeed Kim Jong-Il, though discussion on the issue of hereditary succession was frowned upon. Soon, Ko was seen as a the country’s first lady, and seen as laying the groundwork for one of sons, Jong-un or his older brother, Jong-chol, to become hereditary successor.

When Kim Jong-nam was arrested at a Tokyo airport in May 2001 with a counterfeit passport, it not only embarrassed the Kim family but exposed that the North Korean elites sometimes travel using passports with assumed identities. Because of his overseas training and Tokyo experience, he was ruled out from contention to succeed his father. Ko was clever enough to play politics by using this Tokyo incident to promote one of her sons to succeed Kim Jong-Il. This provided enough fodder to analysts to discuss the alleged rivalry between Jim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-un, which were indeed exaggerated.

Suspect behind the killing

There are speculations that it was Kim Jong-un who got his half-brother killed. Whether this is true or not, the rumour is not going to die down given the happenings and acts of the leader back home. Answer to the question whether Kim Jong-un conspired to kill could be both Yes and No. Yes, because one can see that for regime survival Kim Jong-un can go to any extent and would not hesitate to execute or eliminate a potential or perceived threat to his survival. No, because Kim Jong-nam was not interested to be the leader and therefore no threat at all to the regime. All accounts suggest that Kim Jong-nam was not a threat or a credible rival to the current leadership.

In fact, he had no interest in the job. He had no idea about the nuance of governing a country and his outlook was quite different. Moreover, he was living under some protection from Chinese authorities and had made Macao his base. It was therefore not in Kim Jong-un’s geopolitical interest to eliminate his half-brother. There is a view, however, in some quarter in Pyongyang that Kim Jong-nam was admired by some elderly Korean elites and enjoyed their special affection. Any rumour of Kim Jong-nam posing a political challenge to his younger brother can be rubbished because the two persons who possibly could have propped up him were his aunt Kim Kyong-hui and uncle Chang Song-thaek. While Madame Kim effectively retired from political life, Chang was executed on Kim Jong-un’s orders in December 2013 and therefore no longer relevance in power circles.

How did he die? There are conflicting opinions. The Malaysian government is investigating the matter at the moment and already arrested three persons, two women and a man. Death out of a heart attack is also a possibility. First, the Malaysian police arrested a female carrying a Vietnamese passport suspected in connection the death of Kim Jong-nam. She was detailed at the terminal of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and was identified on the travel document as Doan Thi Huong born on 31 May 1988. Kim died on 13 February 2017 when he was on his way to the Chinese territory of Macau, where he had been living reportedly under China’s protection.

As mentioned, Kim was living in exile for many years and kept a low profile. He never publicly expressed interest in challenging his half-brother for North Korea’s leadership, though he was critical of the regime. He was opposed to dynastic style of the political rule and that may have been perceived as threat.

Yet, given the brutality of Kim Jong-un regime, speculations that Kim Jong-un was behind the killing does not die down so easily. If confirmed, that would clearly depict the brutality and inhumanity of the present regime in Pyongyang. According to South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, there was a long-standing order from the North Korean leadership to eliminate this family member. It is believed that there was an attempt in 2012 to kill him as well but failed.

Kim Jong-nam had not gone through immigration for his flight to Macau when he was attacked with a chemical spray. According to South Korean media reports, Kim was jabbed with a poisonous needle or a cloth by two women, reportedly on the order of Kim Jong-un. There are rumours that given the recalcitrance of Kim Jong-un, China preferred an affable Kim Jong-nam to lead North Korea. If true, that in itself was a direct threat to Kim Jong-un and thus had to be eliminated at any cost, even if it meant fratricide.

Interestingly, the two half-brothers apparently never met and there was obviously no love between them. During the Chosun dynasty, eliminating a brother or an uncle in a royal household if seen as a threat or potential threat was not uncommon and if this logic is applied to Kim Jong-nam’s killing, it is believable that Kim Jong-un regime had a hand. After all, he had put to death his powerful uncle, Jang Song Thaek in 2013 whom he perceived too close to China and getting more powerful.

The timing of the assassination is equally important as Kim Jong-un defied international sanctions and fired off a new type of solid-fuel land-based ballistic missile just a week before the killing. That was a message Kim was sending not just to the US and Japan but to South Korea and China, besides inside his own regime. Kim Jong-nam favoured reform, a position that China shared and that was his undoing.

North Korea under the leadership of a third-generation Kim Jong-un is one of the poorest countries, though its nuclear program remains unstoppable. The question is, why did Kim Jong-un choose this time to eliminate his potential rival, his half-brother if at all that was the case? The developments in the neighbouring South Korea where popular protest brought down a sitting President could have unnerved him. That could have made him feel insecure, as he probably believes that loyalty based in fear is safe.

Since he was arrested in Tokyo’s Narita airport with a fake passport, Kim Jong-nam has been leading an unstable life and mostly lived overseas in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore. He was even afraid to return to Pyongyang to attend his father’s funeral in 2011 for fear of his life. His life had become a subject of international interest. The regime in Pyongyang must have known that assassinating Kim Jong-nam would make international headlines but still could have felt the risk worth-taking because of less reported internal situation worsening day by day.

Eliminating a potential threat is not unusual for a dictator. In North Korea’s case, it is the brutal manner it is executed that makes hair-raising tales. Kim Jong-un had his own uncle and once the second most powerful man in the country, Jang Song-taek executed in public in 2013, and pictures of Jang being dragged out of a court room by security guards before his execution were splashed throughout in the media. Even former defence minister Hyon Yong-chol and Kim Yong-jin, a premier were executed. The human rights group North Korea Strategy Centre estimates over 1,000 officials have either been executed or tortured before execution.

What does this suggest for an outside observer? The incessant purges show that the regime is unstable. Thae Yong-ho, the former deputy ambassador to England who defected has spoken candidly about the manner in which dissent is punished and the increasing disillusionment among the elite. If Kim Jong-nam’s assassination indicates anything, it is possible to believe that there is some sort of plan of a coup brewing inside the country which is why more purges could be expected in the coming days.

The developments in North Korea must be worrying to South Korea. An unstable North Korea, though welcome if it leads to collapse, is also a big headache for the South and for the region. It is difficult to predict what could be the next provocation as South Korea and the US prepare for massive joint military drills in March 2017. South Korea is also experiencing problems in domestic politics after President Park Geun-hye was impeached. Despite the real threat constantly coming from the North, the decision of the Park government to deploy Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence battery from the US is being opposed by the opposition Minjoo Party. Presidential hopeful of the opposition Minjoo Party Moon Jae-in not only argues for resumption of inter-Korea economic projects but has even suggested that he would visit the North first if elected to be the President. South Korea’s relation with Japan is not good either as history issues continue to cloud bilateral ties despite common threat from North Korea. These pose a big challenge to President Donald Trump too.

Did Kim Jong-nam possess any political ambition, which is why he was seen as a potential threat by his half-brother and therefore merited elimination? From what he had shared with journalists and people outside of the country, he was opposed to “dynastic succession” and openly criticised the manner the country is being governed.

This in itself was seen as a threat and thus merited elimination. After his father’s death in December 2011, he had become more vocal in his views. He had shared his views with Yoji Gomi, a Japanese journalist that Kim Jong-un’s ability to maintain “absolute power” would lead the country to collapse without reform. He also said that reform would lead to the collapse of the Kim dynasty and that his brother would be little more than a puppet figure, used by the ruling elite.

Kim Jong-nam was not ever in line of succession. According to his son Kim Han-sol, born in Pyongyang in 1995 and never met his grandfather, his father was not interested in politics. Despite this, he remained a target and his life had been in danger. According to a North Korean spy who revealed in 2012, an attempt was made in 2010 to run Kim over by a taxi, which did not succeed. The whereabouts of Kim Jong-chul, Kim Jong-Il’s middle son, apparently passed over for succession for being too effeminate, is not known. He was last spotted at an Eric Clapton concert in London in 2015.

North Korea’s History of assassinations

Since North Korea emerged as fractured part of the Korean peninsula following the Korean War, the country is involved in a series of assassinations or such attempts. The dictatorial government has never balked at eliminating dissent and making sure that alternate power centres do not form at home. Not only ‘side branches’ of the Kim family sent into exile or killed, occasionally one followed by the other, those seen as potential power centres such as Thaek or the defence minister or premier were executed.

No wonder all eyes point to the current Kim Jong-un regime as the main suspect. The two women and a man are believed to be North Korean agents for the sensational assassination of Kim Jong-nam. The bizarre manner of the killing bears all the hallmarks of a North Korean hit. Traditional purges, executions, mysterious car crashes in a country with almost no traffic are common ways to get rid of enemies or suspected enemies.

Some other assassinations or attempts associated with the Kim regime are (a) the failed 21 January 1968 incident when 31 North Korean commandos known as Unit 124 dispatched to Seoul to storm presidential Blue House and kill President Park Chung-hee; (b) 1983 Rangoon bombing when three North Korean agents hid a bomb in the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Rangoon on 9 October 1983, before then-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan was due to lay a wreath there, killing 17 South Korean officials and two presidential aides but escaping the president for being late; (c) killing of Choi Duk-keun, a South Korean diplomat stationed in the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok in October 1966 in a revenge attack; and (d) killing of a member of the extended Kim family, Yi Han-yong, a cousin of Kim Nong-nam, by North Korean assassins on the street in 1997.

Two more incidents were equally chilling. One incident was in 2009. Pyongyang is said to have ordered the killing of Hwang Jang-yop, who had been secretary of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party until he defected in 1997. He had sought asylum at the South Korean embassy in Beijing, becoming the highest-level defector from North Korea. The agents were said to have been paid $40,000 to kill Hwang but failed in their attempts till finally he died of natural causes at the age of 87 in 2010. The other chilling experience was in 2011 when a defector to South Korea, alleged to have been a secret North Korean agent, was arrested in 2011 for trying to assassinate Park Sang-hak, another defector who had turned into an outspoken critic of the regime in Pyongyang. The agents, identified as An also failed in his attempt and was captured. Park is still around speaking against the regime in Pyongyang.

In the latest case of defection, Thae Yong-ho, North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London became one of the highest-ranking officials ever to defect in August 2016. According to him, Kim Jong-un would be prepared to attack the US with nuclear weapons, but that the regime will one day fall. Kim does not have the means to attack the US at the moment but he is developing the ability. The defector says that once there was an effective nuclear arsenal, Kim would be prepared to use it. It would not be surprising if news surface on some attempt on Thae’s life, presently living in Seoul under South Korea’s protection.

Like previous assassination case, investigations shall continue. In Kim Jong-nam’s case, the Malaysian authorities are probing the matter and it remains unclear if there shall be any definite proof suggesting to Pyongyang’s involvement.

Dr. Rajaram Panda is currently Indian Council for Cultural Relations India Chair Visiting Professor at Reitaku University, JAPAN

Singapore: The Battle That Destroyed the British Empire in Asia



In the darkest days of World War II, when disaster after disaster almost overwhelmed the Allies, it took a lot to shake a leader like Winston Churchill. But when the news arrived that the fortress of Singapore had surrendered to the Japanese on February 15, 1942, along with eighty thousand British troops, even Churchill was stunned.

“He felt it was a disgrace,” recalled Lord Moran, the prime minister’s physician. “It left a scar on his mind. One evening, months later, when he was sitting in his bathroom enveloped in a towel, he stopped drying himself and gloomily surveyed the floor: ‘I cannot get over Singapore,’ he said sadly.”

Seventy-five years later, it is difficult to conceive of just how devastating the fall of Singapore was. It was the largest surrender in British history, a humiliation to British arms that would linger for years in the minds of friends and foes alike. It was not just the capitulation of the hub of Britain’s Asian empire, the “Gibraltar of the East” as the British public had been assured. Even worse, it had been conquered by a Japanese army inferior in numbers—and, by the standards of Europeans and Americans at the time, inferior in race as well.

Singapore had long been a strategic prize, perched as it was on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, astride the Straits of Malacca and the key shipping shipping lanes between Asia and Europe. But in the 1920s, Britain saw it as the key to its Far East possessions. Realizing that it was no longer strong enough to take on both Germany and Japan simultaneously in the next war, Britain’s solution was to turn Singapore into a naval fortress that could hold out against a Japanese siege until the Royal Navy could sail to the rescue from Europe.

Terrain was an ally, or so the British thought. With the Malay Peninsula sheathed in jungle, swamp and river, they were were confident that a Japanese attack launched from the north, out of Thailand, would bog down as it advanced down the long, narrow strip of land between Thailand and Singapore. Therefore there was no need to fortify Singapore’s defenses on the landward side, facing north to the Malayan mainland. Any attack on the island had to come by sea through amphibious invasion, which would be blasted out of the water by big coast-defense guns.

“Curiously enough, throughout all these years of bickering and indecision, it had occurred to barely anyone that Malay had over 1,000 miles of coastline, half of it exposed to Japanese attack,” writes author Arthur Swinson in Defeat in Malaya: Fall of Singapore. “It had occurred to no one either that the defence of the naval base on Singapore island was bound up with the defence of the whole Malayan Peninsula.”

Or, as Churchill recalled, the possibility that the fortress would have no landward defenses “no more entered into my mind than that of a battleship being launched without a bottom.”

Perhaps given enough money, troops and aircraft, the strategy might have worked. Unfortunately, Britain’s strategic reach exceeded its financial grasp. With money tight during the 1930s, defense preparations languished while the army, navy and air force argued over who was responsible for defending the island. Meanwhile, a lethargic colonial attitude reigned to the point where troops couldn’t train because rubber planters complained it would ruin their crops.

However, the fatal flaw in the British plan turned out to be a crazy German ex-corporal named Adolf Hitler. Not in their darkest dreams had it occurred to British planners that western Europe would be conquered in 1940 and Britain left to confront the Nazi colossus alone. With England under assault by bombers and U-boats, and the Suez Canal and Middle East oil threatened by Rommel, there were no forces to spare for the Far East.

However, as frequently happens with military disasters, frantic measures were taken at the last minute, which only made defeat more painful. As war loomed in the Pacific, reinforcements were hastily dispatched, including crack Australian and Indian battalions: it turned out that many of the troops, including the Australians and Indians, were only half-trained. The Royal Air Force had perhaps a hundred fighters—obsolete American-made Buffalo and aging Hurricane fighters—that were blasted out of the air by Japanese Zero fighters flown by elite pilots.

The battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse were dispatched to the area, though a pair of capital ships with little air or naval support stood little chance against the Japanese offensive. “Are you sure it’s true?” Churchill asked when told both ships had been sunk by Japanese torpedo bombers. It was.

The Japanese landed in southern Thailand and northern Malaya on December 8, in a meticulously planned operation. Still, against Japan’s thirty thousand men, the British could pit eighty thousand. Despite Japanese control of the skies, this should have been more than enough to drive the invaders into the sea.

What ensued was as much farce as tragedy. Convinced that tanks were useless in the jungle, the British had no armor. No one thought to inform the Japanese, who brought ashore tanks that successfully maneuvered through the trees as they stampeded British troops. Time and again, the British attempted to make a stand, only to be outflanked and routed by Japanese forces who compensated for lack of numbers by relying on mobility, aggressiveness and deception. For example, small Japanese units infiltrated British lines to attack artillery positions and command posts, a tactic that also worked against the Americans—for a while.

Finally, on January 31, the Japanese reached the Straits of Johore, between Singapore’s island and the mainland. The straits were one to three miles wide, not insurmountable but still quite formidable if defended. The Japanese were running low on supplies, and running on a tight timetable if they were to complete their Pacific conquests.

That didn’t daunt Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Japanese commander later dubbed the “Tiger of Malaya.” As Yamashita said later, “My attack on Singapore was a bluff, a bluff that worked. I had 30,000 men and was outnumbered more then three to one. I knew if I had to fight long for Singapore I would be beaten. That is why the surrender had to be at once. I was very frightened all the time that the British would discover our numerical weakness and lack of supplies and force me into disastrous street fighting.”

The British were too disorganized and dispirited to perceive their opponent’s weakness. While bombers pounded Singapore and feint landings deceived the defenders, the Japanese crossed the straits in small boats on February 8. Their initial foothold could have been crushed by prompt counterattacks. The counterattacks never came.

On February 15, Lt. Gen. Arthur Percival, the British commander, met Yamashita to sign an unconditional surrender. More than eighty thousand British troops found themselves penned barbed wire. Many died in the hellish conditions of Japanese prison camps, or while working on the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway (immortalized in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai). Some of the Indian prisoners defected to form the Japanese-controlled Indian National Army that fought against the British.

Yamashita went on to defend the Philippines against a U.S. invasion in 1944. He was later charged with war crimes in Singapore and the Philippines, on the basis that even if he didn’t order atrocities, he was still responsible for those committed by troops under his command (some wondered whether he was also being punished for humiliating the Allies on the battlefield). He was hanged on February 23, 1946.

What were the lessons of Singapore? Like a Biblical prophet, the battle delivered the message that the few could defeat the many—if the many were ineptly led. The British didn’t just suffer from poorly trained troops, deficient commanders, negligent preparation and government penny-pinching. They were victims of lack of imagination, as in failing to conceive that an army of Asians could drive tanks through the jungle.

Perhaps the biggest consequence of the fall of Singapore was the destruction of Britain’s Asian empire. Depleted by the First World War and then squeezed dry by the Second, Britain would have lost its empire eventually. But the photos of British generals and soldiers marching into captivity under Asian guns left their mark on colonial subjects. The collapse of Britain’s Asian empire, along with those of the Dutch, French and eventually the Japanese, left a power vacuum that would be filled by the United States and China.

Three-quarters of a century later, the legacy of the fall of Singapore still haunts us.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Image: Winston Churchill. Library of Congress/Public domain