Saturday, September 27, 2014

What is Consequential for India?

India celebrated enthusiastically the success of India's maiden satellite mission to Mars. Taking pride in this achievement is understandable and ISRO clearly deserves this praise. It also means globally as how SW outsourcing started to change global Computer Industry around year 2000, this is a shot by India in Space Industry also. India is brandishing her potential to bring down costs of Space Engineering in demonstrable manner. Any Space Mission where substantial Engineering is involved, those Engineering hours can be bought at much substantial lower price from India. What 'outsourcing' did to Global SW Engineering, we are looking at similar potential in Space Engineering. 

Having cheap and capable engineering talent is one thing but translating that advantage and capabilities into a successful industry is another issue. Component manufacturing, network of whole sleuth of private sector enterprises providing necessary products & services and stronger capabilities in rocket technology; all these things will need to happen before Indian Space Industry can take off on its own. In general, liberalized trade will be overall prerequisite for all this to happen (contrary to what Indian government stalled at WTO)

It might be easy to compare ISRO costs with NASA costs; but within USA itself, there are companies like SpaceX which have been making tremendous headway in rocket technology and space exploration. Company like SpaceX has built rocket technology on backs of less than 4000 engineers within a decade what armies of engineers for decades  can barely come up with in many countries, India included. NASA has taken notice of these private sector abilities and is actively vacating areas for private enterprise. Obama Administration and American Congress both are actively looking to lower costs and increase the participation of private enterprises. In some sense, NASA being the global pioneering organization, it always had to share the burden of costs in paving ways for new technologies (even though clearly American engineering hours cost way more to NASA than ISRO).

Given all this, though Mangalyaan is a nice breakthrough for Indian Space Technology and Engineering abilities; the overall journey is a long way. Indian's are likely to overrate this achievement while ignoring the stupendous achievement what it's Legal System attained this week - convicting Tamil Nadu Supremo Jayalalitha on corruption charges. In my mind, neither Mangalyaan, nor Modi's proposed rock star like performance tomorrow at Madison Square Garden would have as much long term impact as what this conviction of a political boss after around 2 decades of legal fight portends for India. 

It shows a nation which is finally summoning 'the will' to correct what has been fundamentally ailing India all along - her Politicians without accountability and not subjected to rule of law. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bombing IS in Syria

"A terrorist preoccupied with his own survival has less bandwidth to threaten yours.
...
It is true that there exists no strategy for victory, and no definition of victory.
...
This struggle is now owned by the United States."


Apart from bringing on few significant Arab Allies, what struck to me is timing - President Obama did not hesitate for this bombing when he is taking a center stage at UN. In a way, he has not hesitated to assert American Leadership role in today's chaotic world. Good or bad, successful or not; seems like some American role in world affairs is better than complete withdrawal; least because no other nations want to have anything to do with this mess. (America contributed to the mess, but there is more to that than simply blaming America here.)

Having thrown cobwebs of 'rudderless leadership', question is how skillfully and in sophisticated manner this administration brings some real progress. In my view, progress will be determined to what an extend 'skin in the game' is increased for Turkey and to what an extent America stands behind Kurds while continuing to strengthen Federal Government of Iraq. 

Setting expectations for a long haul is critical. Administration has started on that, but they will still have to continue this policy of 'having feet on ground'. Prof. Drezner rightly characterizes that the'initial air attack' is generally the high water mark of America's power projection and there after it is all downhill. He also thinks that chances are more that things on ground will not change in next 3 to 4 months.

Again 'price of not doing anything is high' and having started to do something does not mean America would be firmly on the path for victory. The least what President Obama can do is to continue to be honest with Americans about all this (apart from keep whacking any other bad guys intending to harm America). There is a chance that Americans would understand all that.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

United Kingdom

With Scotland voting No for independence, UK remains a single country. Many Western Capitals in the world would have sighed, I am sure Washington definitely. UK is the stalwart, indispensable component of the Western Alliance and it remaining united and together is vital from NATO, EU to UNSC. 

As many in the losing side have said, Scotland and UK have changed for ever after this referendum. Yes voting edging past No in a last week's poll was a wake up call for London Power brokers. The old guard of Labor Party - Gordon Brown - helped deliver the No vote. In the end though, people thought about the unanswered questions as JK Rowling explained eloquently in her post.

What next? Interesting question will be whether UK Politicians think about a truly Federal System where Scotland is helped to stand on it's own while keeping strong UK on the world stage as well as overshadowing of Scottish MPs in English affairs is rolled back in fair manner. UK needs to undertake constitutional reforms and to gear its political structure to a truly Federal structure so as it can draw strengths both from a federal structure as well as decentralized polity. Hopefully win for 'better together' argument moves UK in that direction.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Obama's Offense against a JV Team

I am late to the commentary on this topic, nevertheless the development is serious enough with consequences for many years to come.

The first question Americans want to know is why bother Islamic State when President himself has admitted in his speech that we are neither aware of any plans getting cooked to attack homeland nor we see any imminent capabilities developed by IS to attack America. Remember President Bush also argued that to prevent Mushroom cloud triggered by Saddam Hussain, he wanted America to take the preventive action. Brief answer to this question is though IS does have not any capacities to harm USA directly today; IS is getting stronger if un-checked and its intentions of harming everyone who are not Islamic in its own interpretation is clear enough to take precaution. Killing of two Americans and another of Scottish aid worker are proofs of these evil intentions. The other simple aspect is, sure America can wait till IS gets stronger and actually plots against America; and sure enough American military might can take off IS then too. But that would mean expending much more than when America can degrade IS much before at lower costs. Equally true is also the case that determining intentions of IS is not that complicated as determining whether Saddam Hussein possessed nukes. As President Obama very rightly said IS kills children, rapes women and in general prides itself in bringing Barbarism to Internet world. One of the most powerful statements in President's speech has been 'IS is neither Islamic nor it is a state'.

The important question is, given the danger IS poses; degrading it to a point where it does not pose any risk for USA and its allies is enough or eventual complete eradication of IS is needed. Because if later is the goal we are basically facing 80-20 rule: you expend 20% efforts to eradicate 80% of a terrorist organization like IS while you need 80% of efforts to eradicate remaining 20% of the organization. In other words, stopping IS is relatively less resource consuming but eradicating it completely will need lot longer time and more resources. Given that, it seems rather than claiming to say 'degrade and destroy IS'; it could have been lot more prudent for President to say our objective will be to ensure that IS or any derivative of that would not have any capacity whatsoever to harm Americans and legitimate interests of America. This is important because once you say you want to eventually 'destroy' IS, why not 'boots on ground' at sometime when it is needed? It is the quagmire Sec. Kerry finds himself in - whether it is 'war against IS' or not. But in common folklore, war means deploying all our resources until the adversary is completely and thoroughly vanquished. Folks on Right will find it a ludicrous idea to state that one can ever only 'degrade' organization like IS but not 'destroy completely'. In minds of American hawks, complete destruction of IS is the only path. However, prudence is not to set the debate of 'rallying America against IS' in those polemical terms.

When one frames the debate as 'complete destruction at all costs as the only choice'; America essentially commits herself again to a unity Iraqi State which will take over once Americans have done their job of eradicating IS. But we know from History that, once Zarqawi was vanquished and Sunni Awakening was complete; Shiite of Iraq simply squandered all that hard work. Regardless of all the talk of unitary Iraqi Government, for America to base its strategy to fight IS on the precondition of united Iraqi Government is essentially asking for more trouble. Safer for America is to pursue a strategy which does not have the pre-requisite of Iraq without sectarian fights. Iraq has shown the inability to grow leadership needed to remain together. But that does not mean, America let loose the pressure on Iraqi Politicians to overcome sectarian divide. That is good in itself and longer term. But what it means, there is no need to set goals which rest upon nation building; the exercise which has proven to be outside the releam of doable things for mighty America.

Powerful American role in international relations is badly needed. Degrading IS and cultivating conditions to eradicate it eventually (like President will rally the world opinion in containing human traffic of Jihadis flocking to Middle East war theater); is a legitimate exercise in America's power projection. So President Obama was right to extol America's exceptional duties and responsibilities there in his speech. One can perfectly imagine a world in absence of Uncle Sam, the menace of IS will be allowed to grow and then the world comes to deal with it haphazardly. Dealing with IS resolutely and effectively is something America can do and it needs to do it to protect her own citizens and her allies.

Many in this regard then question President Obama's decision 'now' to help Syrian Opposition apart from IS to wage a fight against Bashar Assad. These critics ask, if these resistance forces are good to 'arm now and support now'; why were they not good earlier when immediate response and intervention would have been lot more efficient? These critics have a point, but  a simple answer to that is 'you take a risk appropriate to the context'. Back then IS did not warrant the risk of arming desperate Syrian opposition while today that risk pales on the background of 'critical mass' attained by IS evil. Hence, America would need to undertake all options available to stop IS, regardless whether that helps Bashar Assad or not.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Scottish Independence

"The best case scenario would be devo-max or the federalization of the UK, but Westminster would not allow either to be on the referendum ballot. The prospect of full scale constitutional reform is not even under consideration outside of a few Lib Dem committee meetings. Scots have been put in a position where the status quo is unacceptable to them, and in which viable alternatives - devo-max and federalization - have been expressly refused as options. It is often said that, if devo-max were on the ballot, it would win. It isn't on the ballot, because Westminster knew that and hoped that by denying a third choice, Scots would choose the status quo. Is that manipulation the kind of government you would want to live under?"

-- James Fallows, The Atlantic


"But Canada has its own currency, which means that its government can’t run out of money, that it can bail out its own banks if necessary, and more. An independent Scotland wouldn’t. And that makes a huge difference.

Could Scotland have its own currency? Maybe, although Scotland’s economy is even more tightly integrated with that of the rest of Britain than Canada’s is with the United States, so that trying to maintain a separate currency would be hard. It’s a moot point, however: The Scottish independence movement has been very clear that it intends to keep the pound as the national currency. And the combination of political independence with a shared currency is a recipe for disaster.
...

I find it mind-boggling that Scotland would consider going down this path after all that has happened in the last few years. If Scottish voters really believe that it’s safe to become a country without a currency, they have been badly misled."

-- Paul Krugman, NYT


I am with Paul Krugman. Scottish Independence Leaders must spell out what transition they want to propose from British Pound to their own currency. Whether Independent Scotland can take its fair share of British Debt is secondary - what is primary is Independent Scotland is going to have its own currency very soon or not. Otherwise I am all with Krugman's analogy between Spain and Florida.

For all the talk of enlightened talk of this debate, as a friend of James Fallows indicate in his post; it is amazing how Scottish Independence folks have not been grilled about this Spain versus Florida dichotomy. 

Above all, what amazes me most is the mendacity of London and Westminster in not being more accommodating and more federal. There were few last minute announcements, but one gets the feeling of too little too late. In absence of wholesale reforms of UK, Britain as is in a trouble. British Empire was never accommodating to its subjects all over the world. The British Queen and her forefathers lost not just America, but crown jewel India; failed to keep Canada and Australia. But still the House of Windsor and Ten Downing Street do not get the message - how to be federal to keep the United Kingdom intact.

If in coming days Scots indeed vote to be independent, sure they will face misery; but the bigger failure will be of London due to its arrogance. UK will be lot more diminished power on the global stage, kind of mere City State of London (like Singapore or say Dubai). It should loose its UNSC seat in that scenario and more humiliation will be in order.


Friday, September 05, 2014

Obama and Terrorists

"...we will not forget, and that our reach is long, and that justice will be served"



As many experts understand, this administration has not been 'light on terrorists'. That is what is expected from this administration and good to know that President Obama is not relaxing there. 

Same should be the fate of IS in coming months and years.