Friday, October 30, 2015

Super Colliders -The Next Higgs Boson: Made In China?

Super colliders are already massive. The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland features a circular track over 16 miles long. Today, Chinese state media announced the nation's plan to construct a super collider twice as large, with construction beginning in 2020. Like the Swiss project, it will smash particles together looking for the elusive snowflake that is the “God Particle”.

Unlike the CERN project, it will do so with a ton more energy.

The facility is expected to generate millions of Higgs bosons, far more than the current capacity of Cern's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where the particle's existence was demonstrated in 2012.

As planned, the Chinese project will generate seven times the energy of the LHC... “[The] LHC is hitting its limits of energy level,” Wang told the China Daily, which is published by the government. “It seems not possible to escalate the energy dramatically at the existing facility.”

This doesn't necessarily mean that China's project will become the dominant source of information about the particle. CERN, the group responsible for the Large Hadron Collider, today announced progress on improvements to their collider, with a project 2025 date for project completion. Currently, the LHC smashes particles with 13 Tera electron volts, but by the end of the upgrades in 2025 it will have 100 TeV. China has not yet released expected energy levels.

If China's collider sparks a competition of research for national prestige, it seems like that's a net win for humanity.

Popular Science

Beware the Fatal Flaws of Britain's China Strategy -The UK’s approach to Beijing, while hardly surprising, suffers from several fatal flaws

The UK’s approach to Beijing, while hardly surprising, suffers from several fatal flaws.for The Diplomat

Chinese President Xi Jinping received the reddest of red-carpet treatments in London last week, with Xi being treated to a 21-gun salute, a royal carriage ride down the Mall, an address to both Houses of Parliament, followed by a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace and a visit to the Prime Minister’s official residence Chequers.

The fact that British Prime Minister David Cameron used the full powers of the British state to welcome the Chinese leader has many wondering about the future of UK-China ties as the two proclaim a new “golden era” of bilateral relations, and agree to create a “global comprehensive strategic partnership.”

While many in London question the timing – this year Beijing mismanaged a stock market slump while simultaneously tightening control over dissidents – the Treasury attitude is simply to bulldoze the new China approach through other departments of government, including a skeptical Foreign Office. The visit and the assumptions it’s based on raise questions about Britain’s tactical understanding of China. After all, as Evan Medeiros, former senior staffer on Asia on President Obama’s National Security Staff, told the Financial Times, “if you give in to Chinese pressure, it will inevitably lead to more Chinese pressure.”

The seemingly ‘new’ mercantilist approach of Chancellor George Osborne is deeply embedded in historical traditions of British foreign policy-making, and has run parallel and sometimes counter to Britain’s values-oriented foreign policy. Long before Henry Kissinger said it, Lord Palmerston claimed that Britain had no “permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests.” Britain has always viewed trade as one of these permanent interests, since power is derived from economic standing. This is evident throughout the last century: the UK was the largest source of long-term foreign direct investment in the United States, played a pivotal role in Japanese industrialization, and was one of Germany’s main trade partners prior to both the first and second world wars. If the new China policy is a mistake, Britain has made it before.

The Soviet Union was the exception to the rule: blame Russian communist views of trade. Therefore, it is unremarkable that Osborne wishes to hitch the UK wagon to China’s rising star. Seen from Whitehall, this approach marries traditional notions of liberal trade internationalism with the promise of profit for City of London financiers. The Downing Street website puts this financial promise at the front of its webpage describing Xi’s visit, claiming it will “unlock” more than $48 billion of commercial deals across energy, finance, technology, and education. The question is whether all this promise will be delivered and at what cost to Britain’s security and freedom of maneuver.

Unlike Britain, China does not prize the bilateral relationship for short-term economic gains, but rather seeks to use British financial acumen to lift itself into ascendancy. The internationalization of the RMB, using London as a trading hub, and a scheme to link the London and Shanghai stock markets – both announced during Xi’s visit – are to build the foundation of a new Chinese order. Xi was not in London just to meet the Queen. He was there to make deals, buying the experience and know-how of the British financial world and he has the cash to close the deal. The $48 billion that he’s put on the table could be just a start: despite the slowing of its economy and huge public debt, China has more than $1.53 trillion in sovereign wealth funds. Furthermore, London would profit immensely from becoming the primary RMB trade hub, which is a very real possibility says Yang Du, head of Thomson Reuters China business desk. Currently, Britain is the eighth largest destination for Chinese investment: when Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor Osborne said at the Buckingham Palace Banquet that they want Britain to be China’s “best partner in the West,” this is what they mean.

Caution is in order, however. The Osborne Doctrine suffers from several fatal flaws. First, it is hype built on hype. Several economists view Britain’s strategy toward China as over-relying on foreign investment to sustain growth. Rather than passing the costs of building British infrastructure – such as three planned nuclear power plants – on to China, why not borrow at 3 percent and maintain control over processes, control over quality, and most important, maintain the capacity of local industry? This off-shoring is rich in irony: Britain – home to the industrial revolution – is paying China – one of the most recent adherents of the industrial revolution – to finance and make British products in Britain. As if to drive home the point, Xi’s visit was preceded by the bankruptcy of a leading company in the British steel industry, a result of Chinese steel dumping this year.

The second flaw is that China does not seem serious about upholding either the rules-based order that Britain helped build after World War II or the liberal economic and political values implicit in that order. Prime Minister Cameron’s silence over human rights issues for the sake of finance was widely criticized in the British media with Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei claiming that it was in the name of profit. The Chinese ambassador had even warned that Xi would be “offended” if human rights were raised during the visit. The main problem with this approach is that it is simply out of step with the British public, which expects an ethical foreign policy from Whitehall. Power and finance are not enough.

This misplaced faith in Chinese investment promises and the willingness to downplay human rights issues have not gone down well in Washington, where London’s embrace of authoritarian China looks increasingly out-of-step with its regional concerns. This is the third flaw of Osborne’s strategy: Britain is out of touch with other liberal democracies like Germany and France and how they balance economic policies with principles. London’s willingness to join the AIIB without consulting or even alerting the G-7 was a major blow to the group, but it also damaged British prestige.

Britain is increasingly out of step with Washington, which sees its trade relationship with China rapidly eclipsed by issues such as cyber security and maritime security in the Asia Pacific. Osborne’s willingness to throw open certain sectors of the economy critical to national security to Chinese investment strikes many as na├»ve if not dangerous: a 2013 British Parliamentary committee issued a scathing report of the government’s willingness to award large contracts in the telecommunications sector to Huawei, a Chinese company with purported links to the People’s Liberation Army. Though Cameron did receive a joint statement from Xi over cyber security during the visit, it is no stronger than the one Xi gave in Washington, and probably has less meaning.

Finally, there is the flaw of unintended consequences: Beijing’s belief that Britain – a major player in the current liberal rules-based order – is bandwagoning for profit may encourage China to attempt to dismantle the system in favor of one that favors Beijing’s autocratic preferences. No one believes that Britain could play a pivotal role if a conflict broke out in the Asia Pacific, but it may help deter Chinese adventurism. This regional aspect highlights the shortsightedness of the Osborne Doctrine because it assumes that as long as China’s misbehavior occurs in the Asia-Pacific region, it does not impinge on British interests. This belies Britain’s dependence on trade routes that transit the contested South China Sea and East China Sea waters.

President Xi’s carriage ride down the Mall to Buckingham Palace was rich in symbolism; the image of Prime Minister Cameron kowtowing to the Chinese president evokes Britain’s first diplomatic mission to China in 1793, when Lord Macartney traveled to meet the Qianlong Emperor in Peking. His attempt to open trade between the two empires ended in failure as the two held incompatible worldviews and practiced incompatible diplomatic cultures. Seeing President Xi and his wife dressed in Western clothes, in front of a trade delegation to Britain would seem to indicate that two states understand each much better now. However, Cameron’s willingness to trade British principles for investment and significant concessions and market access show that London is no closer to understanding Beijing than it was 250 years ago.

John Hemmings, an adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS, is a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics. This was originally published as a PacNet commentary here and is republished with kind permission.


Freedom of Expression Under Fire in Indonesia-Indonesia continues to stifle discussions of 1965, but it’s much harder to do in the age of social media

Freedom of Expression Under Fire in Indonesia

Indonesia continues to stifle discussions of 1965, but it’s much harder to do in the age of social media.

I first read about the cancellation of a panel I was speaking on at the Ubud Writers and Readers festival in a news story. That day had been tense as panel organizers from the Herb Feith Foundation warned me that our panels could be cancelled due to police pressure on the festival. I was to host a panel of young activists writing on Bali and the legacy of the 1965 massacre.

I have researched and written about the events of 1965 for almost 10 years. Born in Indonesia, I myself had no knowledge about the killings until I started university in 1991 in Australia.  In a way, this quest for knowledge has spurred me on to research and write about this past in conjunction with researchers based in Indonesia.

On September 30, 1965, a group of soldiers and officers calling itself the Thirtieth September Movement kidnapped and killed seven high ranking army men, including the Armed Forces Chief Ahmad Yani, in Jakarta. The army blamed this event on the Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI, and under Major General Suharto led a violent suppression campaign against the Left. This massacre claimed half a million lives, including an estimated 80,000 or 5 percent of the population in Bali.

Under Suharto’s New Order regime, discussion of the massacre was banned. Books by leftist author Pramoedya Ananta Toer were banned. Those caught circulating the books were imprisoned. A 1966 parliamentary decree bans Marxism-Leninism, the PKI, and other leftist organizations. This decree, which then-President and Islamic cleric Abdurrahman Wahid discussed repealing in 2000, has been selectively used to censor discussions about the violence, in the guise of prohibiting the spread of communism.

It has never been easy to discuss, but since 1998 books, memoirs, and seminars about 1965 have by and large escaped censorship. This is remarkable when compared to the New Order regime. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the killings, however, and perhaps that is what makes 2015 unique in terms of the heightened attempts to censor discussion about 1965.  Ironically the rise in censorship occurs under the presidency of Joko Widodo, whose election campaign mobilized the largest number of civil society activists and volunteers. We are yet to hear the president express his views on the bans.

The Ubud festival ban occurred during a troubling fortnight in which Lentera, an Indonesian language magazine published at the Christian university in Central Java, was also banned for discussing 1965. A Swedish citizen of Indonesian background, 77-year-old Tom Iljas, was deported on October 16 for visiting his father’s grave in West Sumatra. Iljas was accused of trying to make a film about the massacre.

This year there have been public events and seminars in Australia, the Netherlands, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Indonesia itself on 1965. The Frankfurt Book Fair profiled authors such as Laksmi Pamuntjak and Leila Chudori, whose recent works have 1965 as their centerpiece. The authorities’ fear seems to have spiked recently as a result of the increasing spotlight on 1965. There is evidence, though, that censorship no longer works as it did under the New Order.

The student magazine, Lentera (Lantern) ran an edition titled “Salatiga Red City” which discussed the anti-communist pogroms in the area, including the location of the killings and the impact on the university. Three students from the magazine were interrogated on October 16 and copies of the magazine were destroyed. Thanks to social media however, the magazine has been shared repeatedly on the internet in PDF format, to the extent that its Dropbox link ceased working and they resorted to Google Drive. The students also published a statement maintaining their right to publish little known facts about the slaughter in the area.

Iljas, meanwhile, was arrested on October 10 for allegedly filming without a permit. Authorities were concerned — Iljas’ father’s grave happens to be a mass grave with others, as his father was a victim of the 1965 purges. Iljas was a leftist who chose exile over returning to New Order Indonesia. Within hours of his arrest, Iljas’ case was shared throughout social media, though that did not stop his deportation.

A statement protesting all three cases, including Ubud, was circulated via Twitter and Facebook on October 24. Within a day, more than 150 people from all over the world had signed on. Censorship is becoming more difficult these days. The Monash University Press books to be discussed at the Ubud festival are available in English translation as free electronic books.

The police intimidation of the festival has turned the international spotlight to the massacres. The Ubud Writers’ Festival should have defended its freedom of programming, and in turn the democratic space opened up since the fall of the Suharto regime and our ability to speak at the festival. We need to continue to speak out against the violent or intimidatory suppression of freedom of expression in Indonesia. However thanks to social media and growing transnational activism on this past, Jokowi’s administration cannot bury 1965 as the Suharto regime had.

Dr. Vannessa Hearman is lecturer in Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney.


Is Genocide Underway in Myanmar? A new legal analysis released this week presents strong evidence that it is

Is Genocide Underway in Myanmar?

A new legal analysis released this week presents strong evidence that it is.

Does Myanmar’s systematic persecution of its ethnic Rohingya population legally constitute genocide? And, if so, who should be held accountable?

New legal analysis by Yale Law School’s Lowenstein Clinic in conjunction with rights group Fortify Rights presents strong evidence to suggest that genocide is being committed against the Muslim minority group by Myanmar state actors, including the army, police and a recently disbanded border security force known as Nasaka.

The research, launched on Thursday at a press event in Bangkok, applies the 1948 Genocide Convention’s checklist of criminal elements to the Rohingya’s situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The findings confirm that the Rohingya qualify as a protected group, that they have suffered acts defined under the convention as genocide, and that the state-sponsored acts have been committed with the intent to destroy the Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group, in whole or in part.

While acknowledging the Rohingya suffered discrimination and abuses under previous military rule, the Yale analysis focuses on abuses committed from 2012 to present under President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration. These include documented cases of arbitrary detention, forced labor, sexual violence, restrictions on free movement and population control policies the report’s researchers likened to “biological genocide.” The study follows a 2013 Human Rights Watch report that characterized the persecution as “ethnic cleansing”, a non-legal term that lacks the criminal ramifications of genocide accusations.

The Yale research also argues that the dire condition of 140,000 internally displaced Rohingyas now being held in over 60 internment camps with limited access to food, clean water, sanitation, medical care and education represents genocidal intent. The ongoing persecution and poor conditions in IDP camps has caused as many as 160,000 Rohingya to flee Myanmar since 2012, according to Matthew Smith, Fortify Rights’ executive director. Thousands have fled by boat, often at the mercy of ruthless human trafficking gangs that have maintained death camps in Malaysia and Thailand. Despite these revelations, analysts expect a new exodus by sea when this year’s monsoon rains lift.

The analysis, however, falls short of asserting that genocide has unequivocally occurred, but could provide the legal foundation for building future legal cases against individual state actors, including potential indictments at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Fortify Rights advocates for the United Nations to follow-up the Yale findings with an independent Commission of Inquiry tasked to investigate reports of violence, identify perpetrators, determine authoritatively if the acts constitute genocide, and recommend means for holding individuals accountable under both international human rights and criminal law.

If the Yale Lowenstein Clinic and Fortify Rights’ findings have legal merit, then Thein Sein would be a prime candidate for prosecution – although the report does not arrive at that explicit conclusion. While Thein Sein’s authority over the army is questionable under the current political configuration, his command control over the Nasaka is not in doubt. In July 2013, Thein Sein disbanded the joint agency under presidential order, just months after the United Nations identified the unit as responsible for committing various atrocities against the Rohingya, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and torture.

Local press reports quoted Minister of Information and Presidential Spokesman Ye Htut denying the report’s findings, saying that the government “rejects the accusation completely.” He said that both ethnic Rohingyas and Rakhines have suffered and that the government is handling cases “equally” and “fairly” under local law. Ye Htut said the report’s release was intentionally timed to complicate the situation in western Rakhine State ahead of general elections scheduled for November 8. Nearly one million Rohingyas were arbitrarily stripped of their voting rights earlier this year, while over 100 Rohingya candidates have been barred from running in the polls by the military-appointed election commission.

The Yale report’s findings and analysis will make for uncomfortable reading among E.U. and U.S. officials. Both have richly rewarded Thein Sein’s political and economic reforms by lifting or suspending the previous sanctions they each imposed on Myanmar’s previous ruling junta’s poor rights record. The Obama administration in particular has touted its strong engagement with Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian regime, driven largely by the geostrategic imperative of counter-balancing China’s rise in the region, as one of its top foreign policy successes.

Before the diplomatic warming trend, Obama had called in 2010 for the establishment of a U.N. Commission of Inquiry into war crimes allegations against Myanmar’s top leaders for their roles in abusive counter-insurgency operations. The U.S.-led motion, later blocked by China, was launched in punitive response to indications the November 2010 elections would be rigged in favor of military candidates. With Western hopes now pinned on a democratic transition at the ballot box and even stronger ties with a new elected government, any calls for a U.N. genocide inquiry will likely be met, at least for now, by a steely silence in Brussels and Washington. By Shawn W. Crispin for The Diplomat

India’s First New Stealth Submarine Begins Sea Trials -The first of six Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarines started sea trials in Mumbai this week

The first of six Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarines started sea trials in Mumbai this week.

The Scorpene-class diesel electric submarine Kalvari has begun extensive sea trials in the waters off Mumbai this week.

The Kalvari was set afloat this Wednesday at the state-run Mazgaon Docks Limited (MDL) in Mumbai, where it has been built in close collaboration with the French shipbuilder DCNS.

“The accomplishment of this milestone will initiate commencement of sea trials which will eventually lead to the commissioning of the boat into the Indian Navy in September 2016,” rear admiral RK Shrawat, the chairman and managing director of MDL told reporters.

The Indian Navy is slated to receive six Scorpene-class submarines by 2020. MDL officials said that they will deliver one new boat every nine months.

The 67-meter long submarine with a 6.2 meter diameter will be equipped with an air-independent propulsion system, which allows the boat to stay submerged longer making it more difficult to detect.

In October 2005, a $4.16 billion contract (known as Project 75) was awarded to the French industrial group DCNS  to build six Scorpene-class submarines (with an option to build six more) at MDL.

The deal involved extensive technology transfer agreements. Only thirty percent of the submarine has been made in India. For example, the Kalvari’s pressure hull has been manufactured by MDL.

The Sorpene-class submarine program has faced repeated delays over the last couple of years (See: “India’s Submarine Fleet Faces Further Delays”). The latest delay in February was due to difficulties in procuring certain technologies from foreign suppliers.

The 1550-ton Kalvari will be deployed for a wide range of activities including anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, special operations, intelligence gathering, minelaying, area surveillance, and strikes against land-based targets.

The sub, boasting six 533 millimeters torpedo tubes, can be equipped with both conventional anti-ship torpedoes and missiles (e.g., SM-39 Exocet ), as well as sea mines.

India is in the process of modernizing its aging submarine fleet with readiness rates purportedly to be below 40 percent.

The Indian Navy recently announced that it will lease another nuclear-powered submarine, the Kashalot K-322 nuclear-powered attack submarine (NATO classification Akula II-class) from Russia (See: “India to Lease Another Nuclear Submarine From Russia”).

At the moment, the fleet consists of 15 boats: nine Russian SSK Kilo-class (Sindhugosh), four locally-built SSK U209 Shishumar-Class, the leased INS Chakra SSN, and the INS Arihant.

The INS Arihant will be the lead vessel of the Indian Navy’s future fleet of four (some media reports say five) Arihant-class SSBNs. The INS Arihant is based on the Russian Project 971 Akula I-class nuclear-powered attack submarine. Hindustani Time

Japan Launches New Warship

A Japanese shipyard has launched a new minesweeper for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

This Tuesday, the Japan Maritime United Corporation (JMUC), a shipyard located in Tsurumi, Yokohama, launched a new mine countermeasures vessel built for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), The Japan Times reports.

The 690-ton Awaji is the lead vessel of a new class of mine countermeasure vessels slated to replace three wooden-hulled 1,000-ton Yaeyama-class minesweepers that have been in service since March 1993.

The Awaji, named after an island in Hyogo Prefecture, boasts a new special hull made out of composite fiber-reinforced plastic in order not to set off mines with its built-in metal detecting sensors during minesweeping operations.

The ship boasts a length of 67 meters, a beam of 11 meters, and a draught of 5.2 meters IHS Jane’s Navy International reports. The top speed of the Awaji, powered by two diesel engines, is 14 knots according to representatives of the Japan Maritime United Corporation. The primary weapon of the JMSDF’s new vessel’s will be a 20 millimeter cannon.

Overall, the JMSDF’s current minesweeping fleet consists of 21 ships–one of the largest in the world–and has gained international renown for its expertise in “sea clearance” (the Japanese euphemism for minesweeping operations), primarily based on past missions. Japan deployed five minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991 to remove 1,200 sea mines laid by the Iraqi military in the waters off Kuwait.  During the opening stages of the Korean War (1950 to 1951), Japanese minesweepers helped clear landing areas from mines for American troops and also were engaged in operations further away from the shores of the Korean Peninsula in the Sea of Japan.

JMSDF minesweeping operations were the subject of discussion during debates over two contentious security bills–based on a July 2014 Cabinet resolution reinterpreting article 9 of Japan’s pacifist Constitution–which passed the Upper House of the Japanese Diet in September 2015.

During the debates, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeatedly invoked a hypothetical blockade of the Strait of Hormuz with undersea mines, which would necessitate the deployment of the JMSDF minesweeping fleet. In July, the Japanese Prime Minister also said that he could envision JMSDF minesweeping operations in the South China Sea “if the situation meets the three conditions [on the use of force under collective self-defense].”  However, in September, a few days prior to the passing of the security bills, Abe tried to tone down his rhetoric on the subject saying that, given “the current international circumstances, we are not expecting that (minesweeping) will become a real issue,” although he emphasized that the JMSDF should regardless of the current political situation be ready for such an eventuality in the future.

Tuesday’s launching ceremony was attended by Vice Defense Minister Tetsuro Kuroe, JMSDF officers, Defense ministry officials and shipyard workers. “Awaji is scheduled to be commissioned in March 2017,” according to a Japanese Ministry of Defense official quoted by IHS Jane’s Navy International.  It remains unclear when the other vessels of the new class of JSMSDF minesweeping ships will enter service. By Franz-Stefan Gady for The Diplomat

This Fighter Might Replace Indonesia's Aging F-5 Fighters (Hint: Not the Su-35)

Sweden’s Saab recently unveiled a new bid to gain access to Indonesia’s fighter market.

Can it beat the Russian favorite?

Indonesia is currently in the process of updating a part of its eclectic mix of military aircraft. The three platforms which represent Jakarta’s most formidable airborne capability are the U.S. General Dynamics (GD) F-16, Russian Sukhoi-27, and Sukhoi-30MK. The Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) reflects the country’s recent history international relations, operating a mixed bag of Russian, U.S., Brazilian, and European aircraft.

Since its independence in 1945, the country has fielded aircraft from both sides of the Iron Curtain, often reflecting its political alignment. In 1986s, Indonesia purchased a batch of F-16s, intended to supplement its fleet of F-5E Tigers. However, after the U.S. imposed sanctions following Jakarta’s involvement in the 1999 East Timor independence, these quickly dilapidated due to a lack of spare parts. As a result, the TNI-AU acquired Russian jets. Together with the F-16s, which were modernized after Washington lifted sanctions in 2005, these aircraft still form the mainstay of Indonesia’s aerial combat fleet.

An important medium-term solution is to replace the six aging F-5s with a number of fourth-generation fighters by the end of the decade. Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro previously stated ”We are in the process of evaluating which jet fighter will best suit our requirements, whether the aircraft is from Russia, USA or other countries.” This year, Indonesia’s General Moeldoko said that “the ministry is looking at buying 16 aircraft, but the type and number of aircraft depends on Indonesia’s financial position.” Two months ago, Jakarta announced that it will purchase a squadron of 16 Sukhoi-35s (Flanker E,) an upgraded version of the Su-27 currently in the TNI-AU’s service.

However, other aircraft companies are still hoping to penetrate the Indonesian market. Other contenders include GD’s upgraded Vipers (Block 52+ “V” version,) the Eurofighter Typhoon and Swedish Saab’s JAS 39 Gripen. Under Indonesian law new defense acquisitions must include a minimum 30 percent direct offset, while the selection criteria have been weighted 30 percent for aircraft/system performance, 30 percent acquisition/life-cycle costs, and 40 percent for industrial cooperation.

The Swedes seems to have stepped up its competition. According to Jane’s, Saab recently announced that it is not only seeking to sell Indonesia its Gripens, but is sweetening the deal with a “Swedish Air Power Package.” Saab said that this package consists of the “latest version” of its Gripen fighter aircraft; the company’s Erieye Airborne Early Warning & Control System (AWACS;) ground-based command and control; tactical datalinks; industrial co-operation, including transfers of technology and local production; and extensive job creation, which Saab said would reach “thousands of jobs.”

This package could be a worthwhile investment. The Gripen model on the table is probably the “E/F” model, also known as the Gripen NG (New Generation.) According to Saab, the Gripen NG is “Revolutionary because it combines advanced technology and operational effectiveness in an affordable package that no other fighter aircraft can even hope to match.” As both cost and industrial cooperation are key criteria for Jakarta, the Gripen has a fighting chance against the other contenders.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage Saab faces is the Gripen’s lack of operations experience. The F-16 has a proven track record, having participated in combat operations since the 1980s. Although the Su-35 hasn’t yet seen action, its predecessor, the Su-27, has seen action since the 1990s (although mostly not in Russian service.) The Gripen has only seen service during Operation “Unified Protector,” when Swedish planes conducted air-to-ground sorties against Muhammar Gaddafi’s forces.

However, two other points help Saab’s case. Firstly, the Erieye AWACS will be a “force multiplier” for long-range TNI-AU patrols. Considering Indonesia’s vast territory, this could definitely be an advantage. Secondly, several other Southeast Asian states have expressed interest in Saab’s kit. In 2011, Thailand officially made operational its first Gripens. Thailand currently fields 12 Swedish planes, and has reportedly been seeking to acquire six more. The Philippines and Malaysia have also expressed an interest in the aircraft.

The Su-35 might have won a battle, but the war for Indonesia’s new fighter is far from over. By Benjamin David Baker for The Diplomat

Road to Nowhere? Peace Efforts in the Southern Philippines

The derailing of the work of peace makers is raising the odds of renewed conflict in Mindanao.

The plight of the southern Philippines is a lesson in how not to undertake a peace process. It especially illuminates the pitfalls of negotiating without the wholehearted commitment of the stakeholders, especially the central government. Successive regimes in Manila have made feints at achieving a settlement in Mindanao, but the national leadership has been in turns half-hearted, dilatory and insincere. So the south remains in turmoil despite the best intentions and unflagging efforts of peace advocates. Whatever else, the so-called Mindanao problem has much to teach the international community about intractable warfare. Hard-won lessons in this southernmost and second largest island of the Philippines can undoubtedly contribute to understanding civil unrest and the challenges of peace-building in general.

Often dismissed as a religious war, the conflict in Mindanao is far too complicated for simplistic labels. Centuries ago, when Spanish (and then American) invaders established control across the archipelago, the southern region was already part of a tide of Malay Islam which resisted Manila-based incursions vigorously. But mainly the Moros – the indigenous Muslims – thrived in an atmosphere of benign neglect. After independence, however, the central power became more assertive and Mindanao fell subject to a form of internal imperialism. The centrifugal impulse towards separatism grew ever stronger among increasingly alienated clans and tribes. It remains difficult for a largely Islamic and fiercely independent bangsamoro homeland to identify with a Catholicized, neo-colonial Philippine nationalism. Economic exploitation and rapacious development have compounded feelings of exclusion and powerlessness among Moros, lumads (indigenous peoples), and the landless poor.

This Mindanao imbroglio permits the enemies of peace to manipulate complex issues for their own purposes. In such cases, academe, the media, and other opinion makers have a special responsibility to speak truth to power and provide some much-needed analysis. This sort of rigor has been absent in Philippine public life, allowing the worst rogues to reinvent themselves at will and even to interfere with peace initiatives ostensibly to protect the constitution and the sovereignty of the state, thus revealing the difficulties of a weak polity in achieving a political settlement with a disgruntled, rebellious, and distant territory.

During decades of vicious fighting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and a series of secessionist groups, Mindanao has occasionally appeared to be poised on the brink of peace as various political settlements moved towards fruition. The fate of these initiatives explains the nature of the turmoil in the south. Peace efforts since the 1976 Tripoli Agreement reveal a process which insiders appear unable to put into perspective and outsiders simply do not comprehend.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under its charismatic leader Nur Misuari led the modern struggle for Muslim independence until surrendering to the administration of Fidel Ramos in 1996 (the so-called Davao Consensus). Such arrangements invariably work in favor of the central government, itself too corrupt and cash-strapped to honor its commitments. Development funds go astray and in the 1996 case Ramos even appears to have introduced the dreaded Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) into the volatile equation as a means of compromising the Moro cause and linking it to Islamic extremism. And by 2001, Washington had branded Mindanao the Second Front in the new War on Terror. The southern Philippines was dragged into a global predicament and its problems became ever more complicated.

Bangsamoro Basic Law

Most recently, a Memorandum of Agreement – Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) achieved widespread acceptance, only to be knocked down by the Supreme Court in 2008 as unconstitutional. This in turn led to renewed fighting and the formation of the ruthless Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BFF). The latest incarnation of the peace process is the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), an initiative which comes after further drawn out negotiations between the GPH and the MILF. It is intended to put in place a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR), thereby replacing the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which has not lived up to expectations or quieted secessionist rumblings in the south. But the BBL has serious problems.

The impetus for talks emerged largely from a realization by the warring parties that nothing more could be achieved from the fighting other than the peace of the graveyard. But such a shared perception is not in or of itself a sound basis for a settlement of fundamental differences. Something more than exhaustion is required, especially if flare-ups and misunderstandings are to be avoided. On January 25, 2015, a contingent of the Philippine National Police (PNP) was ambushed near the township of Mamasapano and 44 commandos were killed along with a number of Moro fighters and civilians.

In the aftermath of this Mamasapano Massacre and with the BBL looking moribund, the Aquino administration convened a group of luminaries to examine the troubled proposal and create a popular consensus around it. Both the government and the various dignitaries who accepted the invitation to serve on this Peace Council showed extraordinary hubris, but a National Peace Summit was duly held in April to seek views and recommendations. The Peace Council ultimately declared: “While imperfect, [the BBL] is a significant document that should serve as catalyst for building national consensus.” Less clear was the impact of these “responsible and respected leaders” on the general public.

Above all, efforts were being made to endorse the package while conceding that there was need for repairs. A new form of government for the Islamic communities of Mindanao was being appraised on behalf of an extremely suspicious national polity. Various features of the BBL, it was decided, should be defined or refined – or declined. Much of the 196-page report is loquacious, dense, and legalistically abstruse, but its particular failing was that it could not convince a skeptical populace about the value of the BBL. Time is running out for this peace settlement.


Meanwhile, the burdens of the conflict allow some useful comparisons with civil unrest elsewhere, including Africa and places like Sri Lanka and Burma. There are many lessons to be learned, some of which are very depressing. How a deeply riven polity can overcome entrenched socio-cultural divisions is a case in point. Mindanao’s painful journey into (or away from) the Philippine nation provides some pointers. That nothing can be done without honest brokers would seem to be especially instructive. On the other hand, the scrutiny of players by reputable and reliable non-players has succeeded only at a superficial level. And the modern habit of describing everyone as stakeholders is especially deceptive, undermining as it does the fact that some people have infinitely more at stake than others. And a few so-called spoilers (foremost among which are splinter groups on both sides) wield far too much power.

Many critics assert, for example, that the part of the armed forces in Mindanao has been consistently disruptive and bellicose. Officers actively seek appointments there, balancing personal risk against valor awards and rapid promotion. Apart from the moral issue of receiving medals for killing one’s countrymen (and women and children), the military elite serves too many functions and asserts too much power in the present situation. With its impunity and immunity, the AFP in Mindanao has become a parallel government, imposing its will on a countryside enduring quasi-martial law. This situation provides an opportunity to evaluate the role of armed forces in civil unrest, which is essential to understanding the militarization of peace. All that appears to have been offered to the bangsamoro people is a means to comply with the ambitions of Imperial Manila and “return to the fold of the law.”

Potential gains from a successful agreement are high, but not as high as anticipated by those who tend to link such an achievement with improved governance, public services, development, and tourism. Such returns are possible, but the outcomes of a peace deal and the establishment of a new autonomous region in the south simply cannot – and should not? – be quantified in such a way. In particular, too many stakeholders emphasize a form of developmentalism and economic transition which threaten indigenous interests and would drive many Moros back to armed resistance. Indeed, a major stumbling block for peace in Mindanao is a fundamental lack of agreement about what that actually means!

The current autonomy proposal is itself a compromised compromise. It was not the end point for Muslim separatists and any thwarting of modified Moro aspirations will put independence back on the agenda, along with renewed fighting and a deepening of the insurgent struggle. At present the impulse to independence is contained within breakaway groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which lack either clear goals or capable leaders. They comprise mainly old men, but their message has begun to resonate within youth assemblies. With the BBL’s downward trajectory, Manila’s machinations, and the general anti-Moro sentiments of so many Filipinos will likely condemn any and all moves towards a workable new autonomy agreement and leave Mindanao wracked by another generation of unrest.

“The implementation of all peace agreements and legislation of any Basic Law must be inclusive,” the influential Cotabato-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) concluded in a recent study. “An autonomy arrangement ‘franchised’ by a group or individual is bound to fail. Processes and structures moving forward must involve and be supported by all key stakeholders including minority groups”. In its upbeat and positivist report, the IAG emphasized four main considerations. First, it argues that agreements between the Philippine government and successive Moro fronts have been “good roadmaps for the evolving development of meaningful autonomy.” But such a claim needs to be based upon some successful outcome; the IAG has chosen to ignore the fact that Mindanao may be further away from a settlement than ever.

Second, the IAG warns that full adoption of the BBL (or any other peace agreement) is not possible in current circumstances. Yet the BBL is an organic document and it is difficult to imagine what a partial implementation might look like. It would certainly have little support.

Third, the BBL remains mired in a legacy “of weaknesses in the national bureaucracy … and the timidity and lack of capacity of the autonomous government.” So the IAG insists that capacities must be increased and reforms achieved, but this sort of challenge should surely have been resolved earlier in the negotiations. Fourth, the BBL must be inclusive and take into account previous agreements. Pre-existing promises made to the MNLF should be recognized. But such high-minded fiats fail to acknowledge that there has been a centrifugal force at work all along, a path in negotiations marked by defections, factionalism, and disagreements. Many parties do not want to participate and reject inclusivity as a form of compulsion. By the IAG’s own admission, the BBL is in a state of “suspended animation.” Ideas about moving forward assume that the direction is clear and accepted by all, yet at the moment the players in the Mindanao drama seem to lack even a reliable compass.

In the mass of self-serving criticism, the constitutional shortcomings of the BBL have become paramount. A similar device was previously used to destroy the MOA-AD. An obsessive emphasis on legalities simply provides a place for spoilers of whatever ilk to hide, bide their time, then ultimately derail the agreement. The persistent damage caused by an immense lack of goodwill, an extraordinary amount of fear and suspicion, failure of leadership, and eye-watering corruption and duplicity on the part of official agencies and various other parties goes largely unrecognized.

Many observers point to the BBL as being aspirational in nature, but this rather misses the point. To argue, as the IAG does, that it is a “roadmap document” ignores the depth of ill-will waiting on this particular highway to hell. Build on incremental gains, the IAG concludes; a phalanx of weary peace advocates thought they were essentially doing that in order to progress beyond the debacle of the MOA-AD and all that had gone before.

Death Knell

The congressional process will probably be the death knell for the BBL. While the chair of a 75-member ad hoc committee boasted about arranging 32 public hearings and “the most comprehensive and inclusive consultations in the history of the House of Representatives,” he was also pronouncing the demise of the BBL in a fractious and debilitating gabfest. After much contrived delay, the BBL finally went before the two houses of Congress, where it literally fell among thieves (sadly, this is no metaphor; an embarrassing number of legislators have been caught up in the so-called Pork Barrel scandal, including Senator Ferdinand [BongBong] Marcos, Jr, the son of the dictator, who has done much to damage the BBL. If it should even survive parliamentary review, the Supreme Court has indicated serious constitutional concerns. And a plebiscite must follow these interminable considerations. The BBL is being talked to death!

While the rest of the country deals with the shameful news that BongBong Marcos is running for vice-president in next year’s elections, the senator traduces those who fought and died to rid the Philippines of his father’s dictatorship – even as he destroys any chance for peace in the south by imposing impossible constraints on the BBL. Now a clutch of Mindanao groups under the leadership of Orlando Quevedo, Cardinal Archbishop of Cotabato, is fighting back with a public appeal for a workable peace. They seek acceptance of the original BBL, pointing out that the Marcos version is unconstitutional, misleading, and counter-productive. The stakes are high: If Quevedo and his desperate allies do not prevail, the future is certain to be as violent as the past.

But Marcos is not alone. Few stakeholders have treated the peace negotiations openly and honestly; the BBL will surely now disappear under the barrage of fearful Islamophobia, cynical partisanship, vested interest, and massive inertia. Not enough people outside of local communities, those directly affected by the fighting, even want a new autonomous entity in Mindanao. The island of seems to be in the grip of an intractable conflict between successive administrations in Manila and the insurgent forces fighting for a bangsamoro homeland in the south. But if there is any prospect for peace at all, it lies with unpacking the past and challenging perceptions of archipelagic history which maintain and strengthen the ruinous status quo. The only way forward is to recognize that the Mindanao predicament has been fashioned by entrenched elites and powerful economic interests, which use historical imperatives as a weapon against any consensus for peace.

A political process cannot be carried forward without an immense amount of goodwill and enthusiasm. Yet the BBL has been beaten into its present shape on an anvil of distrust and dissembling. Such rough diplomacy should not be allowed to compromise a reasonable outcome, which can only be achieved through a formula recognizing what is achievable and what is necessary. At this stage the BBL simply has not fired the popular imagination; the need for peace must be more generally appreciated. When the powers-that-be seek only immediate political gains and are not wholly committed to the overall endeavor, failure is certain. The outgoing Aquino administration bears much of the blame for the current impasse, but there is little reward in criticizing a do-nothing regime for doing nothing, especially in regard to confronting the forces arrayed against any accommodation with the Moros.

The passage of the latest peace initiative, along with the establishment of a new sub-state in the south, has fallen behind schedule. The Mamasapano Massacre at the beginning of 2015 led to the suspension of the BBL amidst a veritable tsunami of Islamophobia, finger-pointing, and accusation. Sadly, the eclipse of Moro dreams and the derailing of endeavors by peace advocates raise the likelihood of renewed conflict in Mindanao. The resolution of the crisis lies in its past; solving the crisis would require an overhaul of the prevailing perception of Philippine history and, ipso facto, a reworking of ideas about nation and nationalism. Is the Philippine experience inclusive or exclusive? This dilemma is not likely to be resolved any time soon. Hence Mindanao’s current impasse; hence its misery. By Peter M. Sales for The Diplomat