Archive for the 'India' Category
The world weighs on my shoulders, but what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy, but I worry about you
I know it makes no difference to what you’re going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg, and I worry about you …
– Neil Peart, Distant Early Warning
But wouldn’t it be luxury to fight in a war some time where, when you were surrounded, you could surrender?
– Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Reading through background material on the UN’s recent request for $16.4 billion in humanitarian aid in 2015, I find that the number of displaced people was already at its highest since World War II at the end of 2013, and has risen by several million since then. Nearly all are somewhere inside or on the perimeter of the Muslim world, with Ukraine the only sizeable exception. My sense, in which I am hardly alone, is that we are reliving the mid-1930s, with aggression unchecked and chaos unmitigated by morally exhausted Western institutions. That “low dishonest decade” ended in global war with a per capita death toll around 1 in 40. A proportional event a few years from now would kill 200 million people.
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Posted by Lexington Green on 15th August 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Just this week and thanks to gaining a new book-publishing client, I was able to complete the purchase of a new refrigerator-freezer. Oh, the old one was staggering along OK, still keeping the refrigerated foods cold and the frozen food frozen … but there were so many dissatisfactions with it, including the fact that it had such deep shelves that in cleaning it out we discovered an embarrassingly large number of jars of condiments whose best-if-sold-by-date were well into the previous decade … not to mention a couple of Rubbermaid containers with leftovers in them that we had quite forgotten about. Well, out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. Truly, I don’t like to waste leftovers, but in this case, we had a good clean-out and as of now are resolved to do better, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die. The new and larger refrigerator-freezer has relatively shallow and many adjustable shelves in its various compartments; so that we dearly hope that the buried-at-the-back-of-a-deep-shelf-and-totally-forgotten-about syndrome will be banished entirely.
Anyway – enough of my failings as a thrifty housekeeper; the thing that I was marveling on this afternoon was that the new refrigerator-freezer has an automatic ice-maker. Better than that – an automatic ice-maker and ice-water dispenser in the door, and a small light which winks on when depressing the lever which administers ice (in cubes or crushed) and ice-water and then gradually dims once released. And if all that is a small luxury compared to the previous refrigerator-freezer, it is a huge luxury compared to the electric ice-box that made my Granny Jessie’s work and food-storage capabilities somewhat lighter than those of her own mother. It’s monumental, even – and no one thinks anything of it today, unless the electricity goes off.
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The NY Times recently had an article about the high levels of pollution in India’s capital city, Delhi.
Beijing’s air pollution has reached such toxic levels recently that the Chinese government is finally acknowledging the problem – and acting on it. But in New Delhi on Thursday, air pollution levels far exceeded those in Beijing, only without any government acknowledgement or action.
When I was in India in late 2012 I too was overwhelmed and amazed by the level of smog and pollution in the capital. When you blew your nose, particulate matter came out in your snot. This photo taken below is out the window of our tour bus and you could not see large office buildings along the roadside a few hundred feet away.
The tuk-tuk in the photo (it is a three wheeled semi-motorcycle used as a taxi) is green and yellow because those are the official colors of vehicles using CNG, designed to reduce pollution, which are also used for city buses. Unfortunately the streets are clogged with traditional gas powered vehicles and myriad ancient looking diesel trucks which more than make up the difference.
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Posted by Lexington Green on 19th December 2013 (All posts by Lexington Green)
I recently ran across this quote:
For income growth to occur in a society, a large fraction of people must experience changes in the possible lives they imagine for themselves and their children, and these new visions of possible futures must have enough force to lead them to change the way they behave … and the hopes they invest in these children: the way they allocate their time. In the words of [V.S. Naipaul] economic development requires “a million mutinies.”
A Million Mutinies: The key to economic development, An excerpt from “Lectures on Economic Growth” by Robert E. Lucas, Jr. Professor Lucas is a Nobel laureate in Economics from the University of Chicago, so one of our homies.
Lucas is right. Major change, political as well as economic, requires a change in peoples’ vision of the future, and requires that “a million mutinies” break out against the status quo.
Posted by Lexington Green on 15th November 2013 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Our friends Ed and Sushma were spotted recently in India, on elephant-back, reading a copy of America 3.0!
A close up will confirm the sighting:
We have not confirmed a rumor that America 3.0 is available at most of the top-quality elephant kiosks in India. We can only hope that the tentacles of Encounter Books‘ marketing operation reach so far.
[cross-posted from zenpundit.com]
I have a new book review up at Pragati this morning. (Pragati magazine is India’s equivalent of The National Interest with some emphasis on freer markets and economic liberalism in the classic sense):
….One expert who does acknowledge a paradigmatic shift and posits a powerful explanatory model for the behavior of what he terms “the new revolutionaries” is Dr Neville Bolt of the War Studies Department of King’s College, London and author of The Violent Image: Insurgent Propaganda and the New Revolutionaries. Taking a constructivist view of irregular military conflict as the means by which insurgents weave an enduring political narrative of mythic power and shape historical memory, Bolt eschews some cherished strategic tenets of realists and Clausewitzians. The ecology of social media, powered by decentralised, instant communication platforms and the breakdown of formerly autarkic or regulated polities under the corrosive effects of capitalist market expansion, have been, in Bolt’s view, strategic game changers “creating room to maneuver” in a new “cognitive battlespace” for “complex insurgencies”. Violent “Propaganda of the Deed”, once the nihilistic signature of 19th century Anarchist-terrorist groups like the People’s Will, has reemerged in the 21stcentury’s continuous media attention environment as a critical tool for insurgents to compress time and space through “…a dramatic crisis that must be provoked”.
As a book The Violent Image sits at the very verge of war and politics where ideas become weapons and serve as a catalyst for turning grievance into physical aggression and violence. Running two hundred and sixty-nine heavily footnoted pages and an extensive bibliography that demonstrates Bolt’s impressive depth of research. While Bolt at times slips into academic style, for the most part his prose is clear, forceful and therefore useful and accessible to the practitioner or policy maker. Particularly for the latter, are Bolt’s investigations into violent action by modern terrorists as a metaphor impacting time (thus, decision cycles) across a multiplicity of audiences. This capacity for harvesting strategic effect from terrorist events was something lacking in the 19th and early 20thcentury followers of Bakunin and Lenin (in his dalliances with terrorism); or in Bolt’s view, the anarchists “failed to evoke a coherent understanding in the population” or a “sustained message”.
Read the rest here.
Posted by Lexington Green on 15th July 2013 (All posts by Lexington Green)
[T]he US has managed to secure its mainland post 9/11 is not only because of an efficient Homeland Security organisation but because the US Special Forces (USSF) are operating in 200 countries including India. Significantly, USSF have undeclared tasks such as conducting proactive, sustained ‘man-hunts’ and disrupt operations globally; building partner capacity in relevant ground, air and maritime capabilities in scores of countries on a steady-state basis; helping generate persistent ground, air and maritime surveillance and strike coverage over ‘under-governed’ areas and littoral zones and employing unconventional warfare against state-sponsored terrorism and trans-national terrorist groups globally. Before 26/11, Al-Qaeda had planned similar operations against New York but could not because the USSF had infiltrated Al-Qaeda. One cannot guard the house by simply barricading it. You must patrol the streets and the area outside.
It is good to hear that all this is going on. It is precisely what the military should be doing. How much does it all cost, compared to the price tag of an F-35 fighter or a Littoral Combat Ship?
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th May 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I’ve been reading the new biography of Neville Shute and the account of his trip by single engine airplane to Australia and back to England in 1949. Shute was an engineer and novelist. I think he is the best writer about engineers and one of the best about businessmen.
That got me to the subject of airplanes. A couple of years ago, I read a a book about restoring a Hawker Hurricane that was discovered in pieces in India and brought back to England (after a struggle with Indian bureaucracy) and completely restored. During the restoration, they found bullet holes in the wing tanks that had been sealed by the tank sealant system. It is back in flying condition and is the only flying Hurricane that saw the Battle of Britain.
A while ago I inherited an enormous box of letters that my wife’s grandfather wrote to her grandmother while he was away during WW2 in India. Here is one of those letters. This one is slightly graphic so I will put it under the fold. All grammar and spelling is left as it was in the letter.
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I have a new piece up at Pragati Magazine this morning, which focuses on a book review of Makers by Chris Anderson:
….If anything, Anderson has managed to understate the velocity with which the technology is advancing and the creative uses to which users are putting their machines. Since the publication ofMakers, a succession of news stories have revealed everything from Formlabs’ slickly designed Form 1 machine to users printing functional (if fragile) assault rifles, car bodies and biomedical surgical replacements for missing pieces of the human skull. One gets the sense that the genie is out of the bottle.
Anderson is not merely making a technologically oriented argument , but a profoundly cultural one. In his view, the existence of the Maker movement, operating on the collaborative, “open-source” ethos is an iterative, accelerative driver of economic change that complements the technology. Anderson writes: “…In short, the Maker Movement shares three characteristics, all of which are transformative:
Read the rest here.
Crossposted from zenpundit.com
Posted by Lexington Green on 18th February 2013 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
The Taj Mahal is as beautiful as you’d expect it to be. It is in Agra which used to be an earlier capital of India. We arrived early in the morning trying to get a sunrise shot but the light wasn’t right. We still had an opportunity to take great pictures.
This is the classic front view. Sometimes if you waited long enough you could get a picture with a better reflection and with no people in it but I wasn’t that patient.
Since the site is so massive it is hard to get all the minarets in one photo. Here is a view from up front on the side. Once you understand the scale of this it is even more amazing to think that they proposed building a version of the Taj Mahal in Dubai that is even larger (and includes a hotel).
As an American traveling abroad I am often ashamed that I only know how to speak English. In India this wasn’t a significant problem because we stayed at tourist hotels and had guides and other friends that spoke multiple languages. While English is one of the “common” languages of India and many, many people spoke it like everything else your results would vary especially when it came to taxis or drivers who only knew rudimentary terms and probably were just nodding and not comprehending when I talked to them. In any area remotely tied to tourism the signs were in English as well as in the local languages. The only signs that were rarely translated were the various political campaign posters appealing for voters.
At the beautiful Amber Fort I saw this sign that had been dutifully translated into English but was perhaps the most boring historical marker I’ve ever seen.
I understood what they were trying to say at the Taj Mahal but the words aren’t “quite” right.
Sometimes you see a sign and it cracks you up. This was a big fireworks brand and everyone was shooting off fireworks for Dawali. For days afterwards you’d hear “booms” during the day as people probably stumbled upon rockets that didn’t go off and they re-lit them.
Some signs need no translation. I didn’t go inside but I know they don’t serve beef.
This billboard wasn’t really translated but you can clearly see the sign. This is often what happens to a Western traveler that eats the food – you can see the guy throwing up and someone else sweating it out on the toilet. This is called “Delhi Belly” at least while you are near Delhi can’t speak for the rest of the country.
Cross posted at LITGM
Travel from the US to Asia has been shortened by use of the “Polar Route“, which means flying over Greenland and the north and then traveling across Russia to Asian countries. It should have been obvious to me that we were taking the polar route since it was a long, direct flight out (to Hong Kong, with connections) but I really didn’t think about it until we started flying north, over Canada.
As someone who has spent their entire life studying military history, particularly the Russian fronts, it was fascinating to me that I was actually flying over that country. When you are up over Canada and over Russia and looking at the sparsely populated map on the flight display it does get a little unnerving. When I got back home I looked up the “diversion airports” and there are a few here and there over Canada and then over Russia but it is a long way between them in what would be the dead of winter.
Also interesting is the distorting effect of Greenland on maps as you near the north pole. Greenland is actually about the size of Mexico but of course it seems enormous due to the distorting tendency of common mapping technology.
On the outbound flight we were in a United 747, a four engine aircraft. On the return flight we were in a 777, a two engine aircraft. It is a bit scary to fly over the far north in an aircraft that presumably wouldn’t get far on a single engine. To make matters worse we were waylaid on the tarmac for a few hours before we took off due to “engine troubles”. We made it, but it was a bit hair raising. Per wikipedia there haven’t been any serious incidents with the 777 but our faith in mechanical airplanes is truly amazing.
I also learned to sympathize with flying from the developing nation point of view. The Delhi airport was busy at 2:30am because flights take off in the wee hours of the night in order to arrive in the West at a reasonable hour. It was brutal for me to stay awake that late and it didn’t seem to help my jet lag which I really wasn’t cured of for over a week.
Cross posted at LITGM
In my time in India I was struck by how much obvious wealth was on display. We stayed in Gurgaon, which is one of the richest areas of India. Per wikipedia there are over 40 malls in Gurgaon, many of them brand new and built in a striking style and visible from the street. They also had multiple high end retailers including at least two Kohler stores and many other interior designers.
The cost of real estate is also astronomical, especially for what is considered to be a developing country. The condos in that building in Gurgaon in the photo above likely went for between $500k – $1M USD. There is a shortage of land on which to build and a second shortage of high end “western style” modern facilities, thus driving up the price on both. If you have a large stand alone house (likely passed down in your family) in a major city it can easily have a value greater than $1M USD.
In the past when India was under severe socialism and cut off from the West I remember photos of their obsolete cars that were produced for local consumption. Today on the streets (among the tuk tuks and often animals and scooters) you can see many modern autos made likely by local companies in partnership with major auto manufacturers – they are not obviously different from what you’d see in the West.
Even in Gurgaon you can’t really walk outside as you can in the West. You need a driver or a car to get anywhere. Part of this is due to the way the area was developed but another element is just that even in the richest area myriad people are continuously on the streets and you’d be endlessly hassled if you went out to take a jog or something.
Then there is the rest of India. Since we didn’t seek out poverty we only saw what was available from the side of the road. There were many smaller towns and settlements, with businesses (usually selling snacks, mobiles, or car parts) set up in dilapidated buildings among other abandoned buildings. It is common for people just to urinate outside (like that guy in the corner of the photo) and many of the settlements looked like they had no proper sanitation or sewers and garbage was strewn about (although likely picked clean of anything of value).
You start to understand what Malthus was talking about when you see a tiny plot of land being farmed (often by hand) with a little hut without electricity (and I assume water, too) and then likely there are multiple children living with that family. That bit of land barely feeds who is there now, much less leaving much for multiple kids to inherit. The drive to leave and seek work elsewhere is always present as a result. I didn’t see it but someone we were with noted a woman having a child out on the street when we were passing by. That is the kind of eye opening thing you don’t see in the west.
In the richest areas of India you can live like you do in the West, albeit with many more servants and you can’t walk anywhere (need a driver). The prices, if anything, are higher than many areas of the West. As for the rest of India, you can see the great challenge they face with poverty.
Cross posted at LITGM
In India we saw a wide variety of animals. We weren’t on any sort of nature excursion and only saw those that happened to be at our popular tourist locations or out the window of our bus as we sped by (or sat in traffic).
The most famous were the elephants at the Amber Fort. At 8am they begin queuing up for tourists and you can ride on their backs 2 at a time (they apparently used to do 4 passengers but then went down to 2 after complaints from activists). Our elephant was slow and a bit balky but it was a lot of fun. This elephant coming towards us was made up for the Dawali holidays apparently.
Due to the fact that I was pretty much limited to coffee, bottled water, and beer, I spent a lot of time looking at that brightly colored bird on the Kingfisher beer bottle.
All that nature study came in handy when a Kingfisher came and landed right in the pool where we were staying!
Cows of course were everywhere. Cars stopped for them and many of the cows looked to be in decent shape, although some were getting old in the tooth.
Since I spent a lot of time in the power generation business I am always interested in electricity systems. India is probably the first country I’ve ever been to where you can regularly witness electricity theft from the system on a large scale.
The electrical systems seemed to be reliable during the time I was there, although it was likely “low season” since it wasn’t very hot out (November) which I assume sets the peak demand for India.
The power routinely turned on and off in one of the hotels I stayed at. The lights would go out completely for a moment until the “hum” of the backup generator kicked in. Likely the inclusion of backup power is an absolute requirement for the type of higher level tourist hotels that I stayed in.
High quality hotels in India had the European model where you had to put your key card in the slot when you entered the room in order to turn the power on or keep it running for more than a few minutes. This model power down the room when you are out.
The newer office parks where the IT service industry was located had what appeared to be modern electrical systems with many of the lines buried underground. The transmission lines along the highway often appeared new, even if they ran right by huts and houses that obviously had no power since they weren’t connected to the local distribution system.
India also appeared to be air conditioned in the major tourist areas for hotels and shopping as well as the newer office parks. The buildings were designed as if to rely on central air conditioning and the backup power was there to provide electricity when the power goes out (although I don’t think they could run A/C indefinitely).
Cross posted at LITGM
While in India I was struck by the myriad number of police and security personnel that I encountered armed with a wide varied of weapons from a large bamboo stick (a lathi) to an old shotgun to myriad variants of the AK-47 (since the Indians have long relied on Soviet weapons).
I have a general policy of not taking photos of people with guns and I thought this was a doubly wise policy to follow in India. The above security forces were at the Taj Mahal where everyone was taking photographs anyways so I thought that would be harmless.
The number of police forces and security forces you encounter on a regular visit can be staggering. There were armed soldiers (actually paramilitary forces, although apparently they don’t like the term in India) with AK-47’s checking your ticket at the major airports. I always wonder why you’d arm someone with an MG like this in a crowded situation since it would be hell on civilians but I guess they are likely preparing for a heavily armed terrorist attack more than a typical criminal encounter.
At the famous facilities like the Taj Mahal and the Amber Fort many of the security forces were unarmed but in uniform. The uniforms generally seemed clean and organized at the main tourist attractions.
This wikipedia site details the various security forces within India, which don’t include the main branches of the armed services. Malls and stores also had armed guards, particularly those dealing with gold and jewelry, although one old shotgun I’d bet hadn’t been fired in a decade or more.
Cross posted at LITGM
In the US we hear frequently about the environment and how we are doing so much damage to our environment. It would be good for people to visit India to see actual pollution in action on a large scale.
As we drove around Delhi, the smog was amazing, even with all the vehicles that converted to CNG from diesel (in this picture you can see a tuk tuk in “CNG” yellow and green colors). In this photo there are a couple of huge office buildings right off the road but you can’t even make them out in the smog. We asked our guide if the CNG over diesel made any difference and he said that in the days before the conversion “if you wore a white shirt outside it would be colored grey from all the soot in one day”.
This photo shows a jet flying over a famous minaret in Delhi. You can see the smog there, too.
I felt like one of those cartoon characters where when you cough “dust” flies out of your mouth. One of my close travel mates blew her nose and it just came out black. And we were in a tour bus much of the time that was just from being outside seeing the monuments (and then getting herded back in the bus).
With the CNG and investments in public transport it seems that India is trying but the current state seems unimaginable to a Westerner. I really don’t think that I’d be able to survive in Delhi for an extended period of time since I have allergies unless I never left the house.
Cross posted at LITGM
I recently was in five major cities in India. I was struck by driving in India and how different it was than driving in the western countries.
Photos And Observations
They have vehicles in India that I haven’t seen before. This is a “tuk tuk” or auto rickshaw as they are formally called. They are 3 wheelers with a motorcycle in the front and a seat in the back for passengers. Note that the streets are empty because this is a secured area – the India Parliament is in the background – you cannot linger here – and this was about the only light traffic area I saw in India except on some of the major tollways (briefly).
The tuk tuk is yellow and green because that is the color of vehicles that have been converted from regular fuel to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). This was done in order to make the air cleaner in major Indian cities such as Delhi.
One item that makes Indian driving so much more complex than in first world countries is the bewildering array of vehicles on the road from horse and camel drawn carts to bicycles to rickshaws to tuk tuks to scooters and everything else. There are vehicles barreling down the road as fast as they can and those that can’t move hardly at all, sharing the same space.
Scooters and motorcycles were everywhere, mixed in with the cars. We saw a family of five on one scooter, with a child in front, the male driver (with a helmet), another child, his wife (sitting sideways), and then another child on the very back.
In India they don’t use lanes, they just crowd together and cut each other off, honking their horns to signal all the while. To Westerners it looks like chaos but it obviously works in that an entire country is getting where they want to go. I heard of a campaign called “Lane Driving is Sane Driving” trying to change behavior but I could see no evidence of it at hand.
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Only the finest in India. The author drinking a Miller High Life sold only in Haryana with a henna tattoo (a whale, I think). Note that the straw is in the other beer so that girls can drink while their tattoos on the inside of their hands dry.
Cross posted at LITGM
This post is an intersection of my research on the power industry around the world and a lack of understanding of the power of capitalism that I see reflected around me in Chicago and in many news outlets.
India’s Power Industry
The NY Times recently had an article titled “Scandal Posts a Question: Will India Ever Be Able to Tackle Corruption?“. The article described a scandal about India’s coal mining industry, a critical element of their power generation since India has heavy reliance on locally sourced coal.
Coalgate, as the scandal is now known here, is centered on the opaque government allotment process that enabled well-connected businessmen and politicians to obtain rights to undeveloped coal fields.
Why is this important? Per the article, 57% of India’s power is generated by coal. The industry is hobbled for lack of coal. 300 million Indians are without electricity, and a recent blackout effected huge areas of the country.
The Indian government used a bureaucratic process to assign out rights to these coal fields, instead of an overt capitalistic auction process (a fact that the NY Times article fails to mention), and many politicians and their cronies of course received the rights, likely due to overt or covert bribery and connections.
(the) $34 billion coal mining scandal that has exposed the ugly underside of Indian politics and economic life: a brazen style of crony capitalism that has enabled politicians and their friends to reap huge profits by gaining control of vast swaths of the country’s natural resources, often for nothing.
Why does this matter? When property rights are doled out in this manner, the people who receive them aren’t the BEST POSITIONED to develop the assets. If a profit seeking company paid for an asset in a public auction, they would be paying cash from investors (or out of their own pocket) and would need to “monetize” the asset in order to achieve a proper return back to investors. You don’t go into the auction without a plan to develop the asset, since you would be bidding against actual competitors who were motivated to do so and they’d likely pay more than you would. Per the article on India, this is the type of behavior that you see, instead:
Investigators now say that some of the favored applicants, having acquired the coal fields free, quickly sold them for tens of millions of dollars to steel or power companies. Others simply kept them as an asset and have not yet developed them, even as the country faces blackouts and coal shortages.
The NY Times treats this as some sort of “scandal” rather than as a FEATURE of socialistic systems. Politicians in these systems are exactly like capitalists in a capitalist society, using their role to obtain power and riches rather than for some sort of utopian “betterment of mankind” which the NY Times would likely expect them to do. In fact, these sorts of behaviors are modeled as successful and drive out would-be capitalists since the politicians in socialist societies hold the cards in terms of laws and processes and will use them against those trying to open up the process to a fair and transparent capitalist alternative.
India has no power for 300 million people, an unreliable system with rolling blackouts, and is crippling growth BECAUSE IT RUNS POWER AS A SOCIALIST SYSTEM RATHER THAN A CAPITALIST ONE. The answer is absolutely as simple as that. The scandal and the failures are product of a socialist system as doomed to fail as the USSR’s five year plans.
The answers to this problem of inadequate power are simple and can be found in any text from Smith to Hayek.
1. Sell state owned coal fields to qualified bidders (have the capital and means to develop the fields) in an open and transparent auction process
2. Protect the property rights of power developers by ensuring that they are able to build and site transmission lines and power stations appropriately
3. Protect the property rights of power companies by ensuring that they are able to charge and collect from customers and eliminate illegal connections to their systems
4. For areas that are a local monopoly (distribution), the state should ensure that performance and reliability are monitored via clear criteria and that entities that don’t comply should be fined or the franchise put up for auction to another qualified entity
Since the NY Times fundamentally doesn’t understand how capitalism works and that it is a BETTER solution that top down central planning or socialistic bureaucratic “queuing” models” (of which this is a primitive variant) they don’t make any of these recommendations. Scandals aren’t a problem – they are a direct result of the SYSTEM and will always be present in these sorts of political environments.
Cross posted at LITGM
My amigo Adam Elkus and I each have an article up at the newest issue of Pragati magazine. Adam is reviewing the Sanger book on Obama and national security and I tackle the strategic implications of drones and cyber warfare:
David Sanger’s Confront and Conceal is best used as a Rosetta stone for deciphering DC discourse. Its true utility lies not in its uneven discussion of Barack Obama’s national security decisions, but in the way it reveals both mundane and alarming traits of American foreign policy debate. Sanger’s obsession with a supposed “split” between values and interests, mistaken belief that international security should be conducted according to the Golden Rule, and exposure of sensitive leaks all tell a story about the state of national security debate in 21st century Washington. Although the message is muddied and the narrator unreliable, Confront and Conceal is gripping reading.
Sanger’s self-designated task is to illuminate, through judicious research and both on and off the record interviews, the Obama administration’s struggle to operationalise its new vision of foreign policy. Sanger is at his best when exploring the way high-level officials engage in bureaucratic judo. His Obama is a canny political operator that compensates for relative inexperience with self-awareness and vigor. Even in the face of strategic surprise and bureaucratic infighting, Obama keeps a firm hand on the steering wheel. Sanger aggressively promotes a reading of Obama as driven operator rather than spectator, a portrayal that rings true when compared to other popular accounts of Obama’s foreign policy leadership style….
Mark Safranski –Drone invasions and cyber dystopias
….Of the two, drones have the older history, going back almost a century to the Great War where experiments in auto-piloted planes were financed by the US Navy, but for much of the twentieth century, military applications for drones (or “remotely piloted vehicles”) were sharply limited. The technological capabilities of drones always lagged far behind the advances in manned aircraft and they were extremely vulnerable to modern anti-aircraft systems, or in some cases, small arms fire. While drones had some marginal utility for battlefield surveillance or as decoys, during the Cold War they were never the primary collection tools for sensitive intelligence that the U-2 Blackbird, listening posts and spy satellites were.
Several factors in the twenty-first century have pushed drones to the forefront as a weapon of choice for the Pentagon and the militaries of major powers. First, has been the relative decline of the probability of major interstate war since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the corresponding rise of irregular warfare in the form of insurgency by terrorists, guerrillas and rebellious tribes. Generally, these low-tech combatants reside in poor and remote areas and lack the capacity to detect or defend against drones except by concealment. Secondly, drones offer a tremendous economic advantage and battlefield return on investment (ROI) per enemy killed over advanced fighter aircraft. A new F-22 costs $150 million to buy and $45,000 an hour just to fly with a pilot whose training costs the USAF $2.6 million; a reusable, propeller-driven Predator only costs slightly over $4 million. About the price of two and half Tomahawk cruise missiles….