Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Dutch solution to flooding

This is a video Indian politicians, town planners, disaster experts, municipalities should watch. 

"The world's only water ambassador, appointed by the Netherlands, says damage from hurricanes could be lessened with the help of Dutch-innovated stormwater management".

US expelled Turkey from F-35 fighter jet program

S-400 Missile Systems
Expulsion of Turkey from F-35 jet program is a major crisis faced by NATO in this century, this also marks the lowest point in Washington-Ankara relations. If expulsion is going through and US imposes sanctions under CAATSA then relations between two counties are going to worse and not reversible in foreseeable future (in the absence of any major events).

Current state of affairs between Turkey and US is not simply due to purchase of S-400 system from Russia. It’s an outcome of a long series of events.

Here we need to consider four important points

1. Turkey's inability to buy US/EU missile defense systems.
2. American Alliance with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.
3. Insecurities of Erdogan.
4. Russian powerplay.

Let's see what happened over the years.

Turkey has the second largest standing army in NATO after US. She is also considered as a bulwark between chaos in the West Asia and Europe. Though she is not a member of European Union, Turkey is a member of NATO from 1952 onward.

First Gulf War

During the First Gulf War, Ankara requested for air missile defense systems from NATO to defend against possible SCUD attacks from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. United States, Germany and the Netherlands deployed their Patriot batteries under NATO. Though designed during cold war time, Patriot defense system become legendary during first gulf war. Later, whenever requirements came, Ankara requested US(Patriot)/European (Eurosam SAMP/T) systems.

Buying new Air Defense systems

Later Ankara wanted to have their own missile systems with technology transfer and options to manufacture locally. A competition was initiated between Patriot PAC 2, Europe systems, Russian, and Chinese systems. US was not ready to transfer missile defense related sensitive technologies even to a NATO partner. Raytheon and US Department of Defense (US DoD) started negotiations. After a while, Syrian civil war started, and Erdogan became personally involved in discussions. Stunning US and NATO members, Erdogan announced in 2013 that Ankara is going to buy Chinese FD-2000 missile system. Chinese allowed some licensed production. However, in 2014 Ankara dropped Chinese offer and started a new round of bids.

Russia in Syria; Kurds and IS (Islamic State)

In 2015 Russia landed in Syria to support her losing ally Bashir Assad. Turkey and US were not able to agree on how to handle Russians. At the same time, US had to ally with Kurds in Syria and Iraq to halt the whirlwind of IS conquest of vast regions in Syria and Iraq. Kurds and Turkey are not in good terms, Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) is a designated terrorist organization in Turkey and on low intensity conflict with Ankara in South East Turkey. While Washington saw Kurds as an ally against IS, Ankara viewed them as threat to Turkey. At the same time, Kurds were the only reliable Syrian force to operate on both Syria and Iraq which has the capability to halt IS advance.

During this time, US announced the withdrawal of Patriot (deployed in Turkey since 2013) to Germany for maintenance and training. Though US deployed additional F-15s, Turkey felt themselves as vulnerable to missile attacks and probably lost confidence with systems owned by other countries.

Shooting down Russian fighter plane

In November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian plane which reportedly entered Turkish air space. This brought up the possibility of retaliatory strikes from Russia. May be due to possibility of a war with combined NATO power, or other reasons there were no retaliatory strikes.

Turkish Military Coup and Fethullah Gulen

This was a game changer. In 2016 part of Turkish military tried to overthrow Erdogan when he was not in the capital. Coup was crushed. What followed next was a massive purge in military, civil services, academics etc. Whoever having any known/unknown/suspected link to Fethullah Gulen (Erdogan's erstwhile ally) found themselves in prison. Erdogan declared Gulen as the master mind behind failed coup. Gulen lives in US and Washington denied Ankara's request for extradition; citing lack of evidence. From there onward relation between Ankara and Washington spiraled down rapidly.

When Enemies become friends

Putin made the right moves and suddenly Ankara got a new partner - Moscow. Erdogan even went to the extent of suggesting that it is due the fault of a Gulenist pilot, Ankara shot down Russian plane. Putin saw a chance to cement the relations further and offered S-400 missile system (one of the most advanced in the world) to Ankara in July 2017. Two months later in Sep 2017 Erdogan announced that Ankara would buy S-400.

It's a known fact that US will never allow integration of F-35 with Russian made S-400 systems. For long US officials maintained that, “Russian missile system’s high-end radar capabilities could collect intelligence on stealthy F-35 if the two were used by the same country” and they won't let it happen. When S-400 deliveries reached Turkey on July 12, US announced that Turkey will no longer be part of F-35 program. In addition to that, Turkish companies which currently supplies 900 parts to F35 program will be replaced soon. This is going to cost around $600mn to US.

CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act)

In addition to expulsion there is CAATSA to deal with. CAATSA sanctions will kick in when countries buy Russian made defense equipment’s. It is yet to see whether Trump will give a waiver (very unlikely) for Turkey. In case of any absence of waiver, there will be sanctions and Turkey will be moving closer to Russia.


Turkey is still a critical member in NATO and a long-standing US ally. Though geographically located close to West Asian and Middle East conflict zones Turkey doesn't have the influence matching its size. Though politically considered to be a European country, Turkey is not part of EU or any other European affairs. However, Turkey is aspiring to become a key player and want to recover the lost prestige of Ottoman empire. Apart from Syrian theatre Turkey didn't get a major role in other key issues. Turkey became a major player in Egypt when Muslim Brotherhood got power. However, the revival of military in Cairo (when Sisi got power) reversed it.

It might not be possible for Turkey to suppress Kurds who spread over four countries. Turkey might need Washington to have a meaningful dialogue with Kurds. To become a major player in Middle East and West-Asia Turkey has to deal with Iran and its Shiite crescent as well as Gulf monarchies and Wahhabi Islam. Neither Iran and not the Saudi Arabia is going to shed their role and without backing of Washington Turkey may not be able to reach there.

Economically also Turkey is not doing good. Adverse relations with Washington only created more problems in economy. In 4th quarter of last year, after currency crisis devalued lira (Turkish currency) by nearly 30% against USD, economy contracted 3%. It drove inflation to 15 year high, severely limited Turkish companies' ability to service foreign debt. Bad loans are creating problems in banking sector. As per Reuters poll, economy will contract 0.3 percent this year. Turkey requires IMF support in recapitalizing state banks and restructuring debt. Erdogan's ideas on interest rate policies are not helping the economy either.

A way forward

S-400 is already in Turkey, F35 integration with S-400 is politically impossible. However, Ankara and Washington can work out behind the scenes - probably an IMF package to alleviate Turkish difficulties and sale of some other weapon systems to Turkey. May be giving more say to Turkey on future of Syria; there are still options for Washington to work with. It may not be a good idea for Washington to turn its back on a long-term ally. Let's wait and watch.



1. Warontherocks
2. WSJ
3. National Interest

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

‘Man in the Arena’ - Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was born sick with incapacitating asthma. However, he overcame his health complications by embracing an energetic lifestyle. When he ascended to the presidency of US at the age of 42, he became the youngest ever to reach that position. His personality, knowledge and extensive interests on numerous areas made him one the best presidents of US. He understood the importance of nature and established several national parks, forests, and monuments to preserve nature. He also initiated the construction of Panama Canal, which not only transformed Panama and Americas but also revolutionized world trade. His successful efforts in brokering the end of Russia-Japan War earned him Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. Roosevelt also led a two-year expedition to Amazon river basin where he nearly died of tropical disease.

After leaving office on 1909, Roosevelt went on a hunting expedition in East and Central Africa and started a tour of Northern Africa and Europe. He attended events across African and European Cities'. On April 23 of 1910 he gave one his most memorable, most quoted speech known as 'Citizenship in a Republic' at Sorbonne, Paris in front of two thousand strong audience which includes ministers, army and navy officers, nine hundred students.

The most widely quoted paragraph known as 'The Man in the Arena' from that speech is given below.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

You can access the full speech here -

Monday, July 29, 2019

New Russia-China Military Alliance in Asia-Pacific?

Russian Air Force A-50

South China Sea is crowded - with oil tankers, commercial ships, naval vessels, newly minted islands, fishing boats, white hulled coastguard ships carrying flags of different countries. Chinese policy of transforming entire South-China Sea to Chinese lake is going to make it crowder. During these times 'Sea of Japan' was relatively calm. However, coordinated patrol (probably first ever) of Russian and Chinese planes on July 22 suddenly made it a point of interest.

Beriev A-50 airborne warning and control aircraft launched from Russia's eastern military district, joined two Tu-95MS strategic bombers and met up with two H-6K long range bombers and a KJ-2000 battle management aircraft in Sea of Japan. During its combined patrol, A-50 flew close to South Korean controlled island - Dokdo (also claimed by Japan, they call the island ‘Takeshima’) - and crossed South Korean Airspace over the island twice. First while it was going to East China Sea and second time, when it was coming back. South Korea launched her fighters (18 F-15K Slam Eagle and KF-16 jet fighters) to intercept the joint patrol and fired warning shots in quick bursts. Russia deny all of this, as per them, South Korean actions are 'aerial hooliganism' and 'unprofessional maneuvers'.

Apart from A-50 which crossed South Korean airspace over the islands, other aircrafts in this group violated self-declared air defense identification zones (ADIZ) of both S.Korea and Japan. 'Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)s' are different from sovereign air Space. ADIZ is beyond a country's national airspace - beyond 12 nautical miles from host country's shoreline - where identification of aircrafts is performed. This allows host country more time to respond to a hostile airplane. However, ADIZ is not defined or recognized by any international treaty/law.

Japan also scrambled her fighters in response to Russia-China joint patrol. As Japan is a party to island dispute, they condemned actions of all three - Moscow, Beijing and Seoul.
This incident revels some significant changes which may become very important in near future in South and East Asian theatres.

1. Institutionalized military relationship between Russia and China

Moscow’s relationship with Beijing is growing strong day by day. Earlier, the relation was based on economic necessities of both nations. Russia needed to diversify its petrochemical consumer base, they can't have all their gas and oil going to EU through Ukraine with whom Moscow has an adverse relationship. Hence, energy hungry China gave them some maneuvering room in case of a future US/EU sanctions due to any Russian adventurism in Eastern Europe. At the same time, China also need an alternate oil and gas supply route which doesn’t pass through Indian ocean (right under the nose of Indian and US navies) and then through geographical chokepoint known as Malacca Straight. It was a marriage of convenience. It won’t be wrong to say that Russia was a bit reluctant to go for a full Chinese embrace. Chinese also didn’t want to identify as twin brother of Russia.

On military side, Moscow withheld supply of fighter jet engines (fearing the duplicates popping up on next day). However, this changed later. Currently China is planning to buy 5th generation Su57E fighter jets. This is in addition to Su-35 fighter jets Beijing is already buying from Moscow. China got possession of first batch of S400 missile air defense regiment last year. Slowly, this marriage of convenience is going to the next level. Since 2012, both countries are conducting joint exercises and other consultations. Last year, Beijing participated in Vostok 2018 military exercises.

2. Freedom of Navigation in Air

US is frequently conducting Freedom of Navigation of Seas operations in South China sea. As none of the South China Sea nations has the power to stand up to China one on one basis; and in the absence of a regional military framework like NATO, China is free to do whatever they want to do. To protect her own and allies interest US led navigation operations are a problem for complete Chinese dominance. In addition to that, US military planes neither recognize nor identify on Chinese ADIZs.

Hence, joint patrol with Russia over a disputed island can be considered as a tit for tat action from Beijing. The question is, will this be a onetime event or going to be a new normal. This also depends on how far Russia is willing to go in upsetting her otherwise good relations S.Korea and Japan.

3. Russia boosting military assets in Russian Far East

Considered as a land based European power, Russia want to be known as a major player in Asian theatre as well. Strategically also, opening a new theatre in East Asia will take the heat away from its otherwise stalemate operations in Ukraine. For some time, Russia was boosting her military presence in Russian far east with deployment of new S-400 air defense systems and Bastion anti-ship missile systems.

4. Backfire on Russia

Inserting unnecessarily into conflicts against countries with which Russia has otherwise good relations is going to backfire. If Russia is sending signals that it is ready to accept political cost on behalf of China; then it is not going to go down well with Seoul or Tokyo. In addition to that, new military alliance will only push other countries further into US orbit. Chinese are more calculative and do in depth analysis before they get into something. I don't think, Chinese are going to back any Russian adventurism in Eastern or Central Europe. In the end only Russians will end up paying the price.

It is to be remembered here that, last year Moon became the first ever South Korean president to visit Russia, and both countries’ air forces established a hotline as well.

5. More problems for US

Infighting between Seoul and Japan over WWII War Crimes, forced labor and Comfort Woman cases already affecting the trade between two nations. These issues are driven by passion and nationalism which is not going to fade away any time soon. In addition to that, China brought Cambodia fully into her orbit. New Chinese naval base and Cambodia’s purchase of Chinese weaponry is going to enhance these relations. Philippines' president hardly says any word against China despite multiple issues in South China sea, where Philippines ended up victims. Other countries in the area has deep economic links with China and are heavily dependent on Chinese investment. Vietnam may an exception here.

In addition to that, Chinese are entrenching her position in South China sea by building and weaponizing new islands.

6. Indian Context

India need to consider new political equations in East Asia very seriously. For more than six decades Russia remained as a major ally and weapon systems provider. At the same time, we have a lot of outstanding border issues with China. In addition to that, China is an all-time friend of Pakistan. It is to be remembered here that China blocked Indian demand for UNSC declaring Masood Azhar as terrorist numerous times. China also blocked India's entry to NSG.

In this situation, a Moscow-Beijing military alignment is not good news for India. Russia's movement to Chinese orbit is only going to push India further away from Russia and more to US. Moreover, if Russia is going to sell the same equipment to China - which Russia is selling to India now - there is no point of buying more from Russia.

7. China-Korea Relations

After deployment of THAAD missile defense system by Moon's predecessor (Park Geun-hye) China-South Korea relations spiraled downward. This also led to street protests in China and caused an estimated $10bn loss to S.Korean business. It is believed that, later S.Korea under Moon conceded to Chinese demands - No further US Anti-Ballistic missile systems, No integration to US led regional missile systems and no trilateral military alliance with US and Japan. In this situation, why China made this move?

It is to be remembered here that; China generally don't act on impulsion. They always move with a well thought out strategy. If we take this into consideration, then Beijing might have assumed a calculated risk. Current Korean - Japanese relations are not in good shape. Hence, patrol over a disputed Korean administrated island - which Japan also claims – may be enough as a rebuttal for US freedom of navigation operations on sea but not enough to push Korea to the other end. We will see in coming days whether Chinese crossed the line, or they just pushed the line little further. US under current administration is passive on issues related to South East Asian security framework. Hence some adventurism may not invite any big push back.

Crossing boundaries and firing warning shorts is risky. It is to be remembered here that, a Korean Air Lines flight (from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage, Alaska) was shot down by Soviet Su-15 interceptor after Boeing 747 was deviated from its original planned route and flew through Soviet's prohibited airspace due to technical problem. All 269 people on board were killed in that incident. Hope that, all stake holders will careful enough not to cause any accidents.


Note 1:
As per Reuters report, "Japan regularly scrambles fighters to intercept Chinese and Russian aircraft that fly close to its territory, with 999 such intercepts in the twelve months that ended on March 31".

Note 2:
In order to avoid taking sides with either allies, US call this island - 'Liancourt Rocks'.


1. WSJ
3. National Interest

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Invictus (Unconquered) by William Ernest Henley

Invictus was written by English poet ‘William Ernest Henley’ in 1875. Poem was initially published without a title. This apt title was added by ‘Arthur Quiller-Couch’ when he included this poem in ‘Oxford book of English verse’ in 1900. 

This poem’s last two lines became very famous, and often quoted by politicians, public speakers and major characters in multiple movies. Poem represents tragedies in author's life and how he went through it. When Henley was 16 years old, his left leg was amputated due to TB. Later he was told that same procedure is required for his other leg as well. He refused that option and travelled to Edenborough to meet famous English surgeon Sir Joseph Lister, who is a pioneer in antiseptic surgery. After multiple surgeries Lister was able to save Henley's leg. This poem was written by author when he was recovering from surgeries.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

- William Ernest Henley

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Bangalore Lakes - Hesaraghatta

Hesaraghatta Lake - Bangalore

Once upon a time, as old-timers say, Bangalore had numerous lakes built by then administrators to avoid water shortage in the city. The irony is, under new administrators, those wetlands were leveled to get space for residential and industrial layouts to meet the demand of rapidly expanding city.

Me and Jaseer were planning to visit someplace within the city on a weekend. An early morning trip to an old prestigious freshwater lake looked like an ideal candidate.

Hesaraghatta lake (famously known as Hesaraghatta grasslands) is not a natural lake (or khere as Kannadigas call it). This lake was created in 1894 across the river Arkavathy to address water needs of then Bangalore city. Sir K Seshadri Iyer (then Dewan of Mysore) and M.C. Hutchins (then Chief Engineer of Mysore state) started a project called 'Chamarajendra Water Works' to create a storage capacity which is three times that of Bangalore's then annual water demand. 

River Arkavati originates from Nandi Hills and flows through Chikkaballapur, Kolar, and Bangalore Rural to join Kaveri river at Kanakpura. Earth bund at Hesaraghatta dam has a length of 1690m and a height of 40.55m. At Full Reservoir Level (FRL), lake has a capacity to store 997 MCft of water. The project covers a surface area of 1100 acres. Water from this reservoir was taken initially to Soladevanahalli pumping station by gravity and then pumped to Combined Jewel Filters (CJF) plant at Malleswaram for treatment and supply.

There are two major dams across Arkavathy. One is called 'Hesaraghatta' and the other one 'Chamarajasagara'. Later is located at T.G.Halli. When Hesaraghatta Lake started drying up around 1925, T.G.Halli was built downstream. This dam had been enlarged from time to time to meet the demand.

Hesaraghatta never saw water at its FRL for more than two decades. The disappearance of many other lakes in the city, led migratory birds to this one. If rains stay away from Bangalore and water demands increase further, then this lake will also become history. 

We - me and Jaseer - planned to start very early in the morning. For visiting any places, I always found it better to start early. One can drive through light traffic, enjoy the cool air, and watch beautiful sunrise on the way, or at the destination.

As Helmuth von Moltke the Elder told once, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy". Our plan to go early was also fell apart. We reached late at Domlur bridge – our starting point - and sunrise happened sometime before we reached there

From Domlur, Hesaraghatta is some 40kms away. Traffic was light and we surged ahead. After Hebbal, we ride through NH 44 for a while and then switched to Dodabellapur Road at Yalahanka. From Nagenahalli we left the comfort of wide roads and switched to narrow ones. After a while, we reached Hasaregatte lake.

From road, one needs to walk a bit to reach a flat lakebed. Bikers don't have to walk. Once upon a time, the entire area was underwater. Now to touch water, one needs to drive some distance through lakebed. Parts of the surface were covered in grass, some other areas had bushes and small trees. Birds were flocking on those trees. We walked a bit more through the grasslands then went to the dam side. There was a narrow blacktopped road going through the top. In the middle, there was a small Durgamba Devi Temple. We walked till the temple and then came back.

Nice way to spend a morning on a weekend.