Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Continues to Purchase Defense Systems from Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) at G20 2015, Antalya, Turkey, Photo Ahmet Bolat - Anadolu Agency

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) at G20 2015, Antalya, Turkey, Photo Ahmet Bolat - Anadolu Agency

ASIA - Indian Prime Minister Modi addressed the U.S. Congress last Wednesday June 8th, marking his fourth visit to the United States since taking office. The state of India-U.S. relations as described by Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a “pillar of strength in an important region of the world." Prime Minister Modi has also recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who emphasized the growing cooperation between India and Russia as he reiterates his support for “developing the privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia.”

India, the world’s largest arms importer, continues to purchase Russian arms in large and growing amounts. While policymakers in the United States stress over India’s recent growing appetite for Russian weapons, Russian officials disapprove of India’s defense deals with the United States and its allies such as Israel.

Historically, India had been a major purchaser of Soviet armaments. After the 1990s, however, India started to turn to the United States for arms imports. In the past 20 years, India has relied largely on the United States to supply it with arms.

This is not to say that the relationship between the two nations’ leadership have always been peachy. In 2005, members of the American Congress banned Prime Minister Modi from obtaining a visa to visit the United States based on his failure to stop the anti-Muslim attacks three years’ prior in the Indian state of Gujarat. Since then, American leaders and Prime Minister Modi have reconciled under President Obama’s administration. The shared interests of the United States and India included and still include maintaining maritime security in the India-Asia Pacific, such as maritime transportation of legal goods, as agreed during Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s visit with Indian Defense Minister Raksha Mantri this year in April. A major drive for cooperation to maintain maritime security has to do specifically with the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which was called upon to reach a resolution by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) under the “U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” agreement. As demonstrated in Prime Minister Modi’s meetings with President Obama, Congress, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, both India and the United States intend to cooperate on matters in the India-Asia Pacific.

However, India has also started to seek out Russian bilateral ties in an attempt to change its image as an American subordinate to a more complex player in international politics.

This is great for Russia’s defense exporters. As European nations that were traditionally reliant on Russia for defense are starting to develop their own arms or purchase more Western arms than Russian, the importance of Russia’s arms exports to Asia increases. An estimated 60 percent of all Russian arms exports are to Asia, with 39 percent going specifically to India. Last year in December, India purchased five Russian S-400 supersonic air defense systems, which estimated a cost of roughly 6 billion USD. India shares a great deal of Russia’s goals when it comes to counterterrorism. In past talks, both Modi and Putin were troubled by the security in and bordering around Afghanistan. Both leaders have also expressed support for the termination of terrorist ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan. On the other hand, Russia has also supplied Pakistan with Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters and Klimov RDP93 engines for the JF-17. Despite Prime Minister Modi’s calling Russia “a strong and reliable friend”, it remains to be seen if Russia will continue to provide Pakistan with armaments without requiring it to ban ‘safe havens’ for terrorists.

This is not to say that India has decreased its American defense purchases over the recent years. In 2004, India spent 200 million USD on American arms. In 2014, India spent 2 billion USD and it was during this year that India purchased more from the United States than Russia.

The business to export more weapons to India grows even more competitive with India’s plans to expand its own defense manufacturing and to spend 250 billion USD over the next ten years upgrading its military. Both the United States and Russia have expressed interests to contribute to the development of India’s domestic defense manufacturing. Recently, India has produced the 155mm Dhanush field artillery while it is currently working on the Vibrant-class aircraft carrier.

The United States is the world’s largest arms exporter, with Russia coming in second. The competition to export to India is not exclusively for the reasons of financial gain in the defense industry. Exporting arms leverages cooperation and the cooperation of a nation with a geopolitical advantage such as India will pave way for tactical gains in counter-terrorism and security in the Asia Pacific.

Contributing Journalist: @Helene_Serena
LinkedIn: Helen Huang

The Resurgence and Spread of Child Marriage in Modern Asia

Asia - India Gujarat, Photo by RURO

Asia - India Gujarat, Photo by RURO

ASIA - The phenomena of child marriage, the taking or marrying off a girl at an age that is well below what modern society deems socially acceptable, sounds like a practice that belongs in a history book rather than in the twenty-first century. However, though hard to believe, the practice not only exists in these modern times, but also that it is thriving. In fact, emerging evidence indicates that the marrying off these child brides is becoming more widespread in many parts of the world. Whether due to socioeconomic pressures or to cultural preferences, the world is witnessing a steady resurgence of the practice of child marriages in places such as Africa, the Middle East, and now more prevalent in Asia.

One country in particular which has experienced an increase in the number of child marriages is poverty-stricken Bangladesh. This country has been identified in a report by the International Center for Research of Women (ICRW) as number 3 on a list of the top 20 countries with the highest incidents of child brides. This is because nearly 68.7% of all Bangladeshi girls under the age of 18 are married off to older men. The drastic rise in the practice has become so prevalent in recent years that researchers describe it as a full-blown “epidemic”. According to current estimates, nearly one third of girls in the country are married off before they reach the age of 15. This figure is staggering, and girls who are married off at such a young age often face high rates of domestic abuse, increased risks in childbirth, and the prospect of life-long poverty. Unfortunately, in many rural areas of countries with emerging economies young women are often considered a burden. It is these societal standards which is sanctioned and even encouraged that families use to justify pressing their young daughters into marriage to older men.

Concomitant factors such as poverty, lack of education, and the destabilization of the economy from natural disasters like typhoons, which are known for causing widespread destruction in Southeast Asian countries, also play a role in propagating acceptance of this practice. Parents often resort to marrying off their daughters in order to save money to pay for the education of their sons who are seen as better able to support the family once they reach the age of maturity. Bangladesh is not the only country to face the ever increasing problem of child marriage. Afghanistan is another country in the region known to the world as a region of innumerable human rights abuses.

Many of these abuses are due to complex forces, such as the oppressive patriarchal culture, the violent influence of the Taliban, and the subjugation of women who are often publicly executed. Given these influences the marriage of young girls to older men seems a foregone conclusion. Here, and most notably in the country's north-eastern province of Badakhshan, women experience the most extreme lack of independence. In this nation plagued by chronic food shortages, brought about by decades-long conflicts in the region, girls are being sold and traded off at an alarming rate. The money that the families get for the sale of their daughters enable them to purchase food, livestock, or other necessities.

The situation is particularly bleak in Badakhshan which according to a report by the United Nations (U.N.). Young girls experience some of the highest rats of abuses and death at the hands of their husbands who are often decades their senior. These men repeated and violently rape their young brides, who once they become pregnant do not allow them to access prenatal care with the intention of isolating these girls. According to the ICRW young girls are most afflicted by the following.

  • Premature Pregnancy: Child brides almost always bear children before they are physically - or emotionally - ready.
  • Maternal Mortality: Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy than older women. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
  • Infant Mortality: Mortality rates for babies born to mothers under age 20 are almost 75% higher than for children born to older mothers. The children that survive are more likely to be premature, have a low birth weight, and are more at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.
  • Health Problems: Premature childbirth can lead to a variety of health problems for mothers, including fistula, a debilitating condition that causes chronic incontinence. Girls with fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by society. There are approximately 2 million girls living with fistula, and 100,000 new cases every year.
  • HIV/AIDS: Married girls may be more likely to contract sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS, than unmarried girls. Young girls are more physically susceptible to STD's, have less access to reproductive education and health services and are often powerless to demand the use of contraception. (Source: ICRW)

Girls under the age of 15 are most at risk to this tragic outcome because of their physical immaturity. These young girls also face the specter of contracting HIV from infected husbands. Experts are in agreement that the best way to counter this growing trend is by working to alleviate the country's desperately crippled economy.

While the prevalence of the practice is closely associated with poverty and destruction, this is not true in every country. China, for example, has experienced steady economic growth in the past several decades. Despite its overall financial stability, the country is also experiencing a rise in the number of child marriages. The increase in this practice is largely driven by political factors such as the long-standing one-child policy. This policy, first enacted in the late 1970's to alleviate China's issue with unchecked population growth, has in fact resulted in a problematic and wide scale gender imbalance. Thus, the country now has approximately 33 million more men than women in the country. Despite this, the cultural bias toward boys remains, particularly in the rural areas where parents routinely force their daughters to marry young so that they aren't a financial burden to the family.

Additionally, China’s gender gap has led to a dramatic rise in the rates of human trafficking. Young girls are being sold or kidnapped then smuggled out of the country to neighboring Vietnam. Those who aren't 'lucky' enough to be sold for purposes of marriage, face the horrifying specter of sex slavery. These girls, as young as 13-years-old, are sometimes sold by their parents who have been solicited by the smugglers to sell their daughters who are subsequently drugged as a means of controlling them while they are removed from their homes. The girls are then marketed to potential buyers and sold for the deplorable price of $3,000 or less.

Sadly, with the continued growth of China, and the growing need for increased human capital to produce low costs products which the West is increasing dependent upon. This has resulted in the rise of another type of enslavement of girls and women in the manufacturing sectors found in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Often chained to their work stations for up to 16 hours a day, they are not even allowed bathroom breaks in order to maximize high production at low costs.

The documentary 'Santa's Workshop' provides a chilling look into the abuse of the laborers in many Chinese factories. The majority of these workers are children and women. Thus, it is unfortunate and disheartening to realize that for a female to make it to adulthood having escape sexual enslavement or child marriage, is not a guarantee of avoiding future exploitation. There are many organizations dedicated to advocating for the rights of child brides, women, and forced labor, but this abuse, irrespective of the fact that it is occurring in locations quite foreign to us, should in no way inure us to the suffering these girls and women face. Nor to our obligation to remain engaged in trying to make a difference, even if this difference is as simple as sharing these statistics and stories with friends, family, and associates. In so doing we may become more conscious and conscientious, two things which help to complete us as human beings.

Contributing Journalist: @JonEizyk
LinkedIn: Jon Eizyk

A Call to Reason and Cooperation in Dealing with Increasing Global Terrorism

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa at the King Hussein Convention Centre, at the Dead Sea May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa at the King Hussein Convention Centre, at the Dead Sea May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

ISRAEL - It is always the innocent who end up suffering the most, no matter what the conflict happens to be. This is a sad reality of the world we live in, and one in which we are confronted with daily, because of an increase in global conflict, terrorism, and the instability of nations. Weaponized hatred and terror has significantly increased in the present day, as leaders of extremists’ groups radicalize individuals and deploy them in unexpected attacks which are difficult to predict. The inability to anticipate these attacks has resulted in nations being forced to introduce stringent security measures that are more restrictive on innocent citizens, but at the same time fail in curtailing the acts of real terrorists, who often slip through undetected.

The recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels are both examples of radicals who inflicted mayhem in a misguided attempt to express their loyalty to groups like ISIS. These individuals were easily manipulated into committing a series of reprehensible acts; acts which were concocted without any real goal in mind other than to instill terror, confusion, and suspicion. Unlike true revolutionaries, who have set and clearly defined objectives (which may at times result in violence), and whose methods are usually meant to garner support for their cause, these radicals are primarily focused only on differentiating themselves from whatever element they strove to rebel against. In short, their acts of terror promise peace if only the citizens would choose their cause over that of the incumbent government. Usually, nothing could be farther from the truth as citizen’s usually replace the devil they know with an equally deceptive regime.

It is a sad matter of fact, but domestic and international terrorists are only increasing in their attempts to target America, the E.U., Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Indeed, few places in the world now seem off limits. At times, it seems as if these terrorists enjoy a twisted pleasure in targeting innocent men, women, and children- regardless of their country of origin, background, or religion. When people think of terrorism, they usually associate it with organization such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda. In reality, however, these groups are not always behind the attacks. There are just as many attacks by ‘lone’ wolves (individuals who act on their own accord) who seek revenge for real or perceived offences. Such was the case with Yosef Haim Ben David, an Israeli settler who orchestrated the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdair, who was beaten and burned alive in the summer of 2014. By his own admission, Ben David admitted that Khdair’s murder was largely in response to Hussam Qawasmeh’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in that same year. These examples are particularly worthwhile to note, because they go to highlight the fact that acts of terror are not always attributed to any one side or the other. Instead, they should be seen for what they are - baseless crimes of hate. Blame for these actions should be placed squarely on the person or persons who are solely responsible for perpetrating these heinous acts.

On Tuesday, 19 April 2016, the BBC News reported that the ringleader in the murder of Abu Khdair was found guilty by an Israeli court. Ben David has yet to be sentenced, but judgement is anticipated to be harsh and followed by a lengthy prison sentence.  Meanwhile, in a similar case, The New York Times reported on January 6, 2015 that Hussam Qawasmeh, the Palestinian behind the Kidnap and Murder of the 3 Israeli teens, received 3 consecutive life sentences for his role in the murders. Both cases are extreme examples of people who acted on their own accord; individuals who took out their anger on innocent bystanders, in a misguided attempt to inflict pain on those whom they perceived as having harmed or insulted them. While they truly believed they were furthering the agendas of their governments, the fact of the matter is that in reality they had little or no insight into the broader political and security process which governments take into consideration when combating terrorism. The heinous acts committed by these men are theirs alone, and for these crimes they have been judged and found guilty. It is a case in which respect for and protection of human rights trumped all other agendas.

By the same note, it is the job of respective governments to strive to put aside their differences when confronting the global threat from extremists. World powers must unite in this endeavor, and the responsibility of overcoming these threats must be shared. Great examples of this can be seen through the workings of countries such as India and Pakistan, who have recently learned to cooperate in tackling this issue. Just this past month, for example, The Indian Express reported that intelligence from Pakistan’s security apparatus was shared with its long-time rival, India, in preventing a large-scale terror attack from being carried out on Indian soil. This selfless act undoubtedly helped to save lives and must be praised for showing what can be achieved when countries work in setting aside their personal differences, and instead choose to protect innocent civilians - regardless of their creed or nationality. Countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East can (and indeed should) all learn to follow suit, because It’s not too late.

What people must now come to a consensus on is that tragedy should cease to be politicized. Pain is not a zero-sum game. One tragedy, should not work in taking away from another. Nor should it justify it. In this sense, the pain and strife which has befallen the Palestinian people, for example, should not take away from the pain and strife which is now unfolding in Israel. Both sides are equally right in hurting, and both sides must learn to empathize with the other. Only in this way, will real progress be made. Not only in the now decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also throughout the traumatized region.

Contributing Journalist: @JonEizyk
LinkedIn: Jon Eizyk

The Complicated Dynamic of Arab’s Love-Hate Relationship with the Rest of the World

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry & Arab League Secretary-General Dr. Nabil Elaraby,, Photo by U.S. Department of State

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry & Arab League Secretary-General Dr. Nabil Elaraby,, Photo by U.S. Department of State

MIDDLE EAST - The relationship the Middle East maintains with other global nations is complicated. Whether political relations or social ties, trying to understand the depth of Arab’s love-hate relationship with other countries sometimes seems like an impenetrable task.

Without taking into consideration foreign nations, the countries that make up the Middle East are themselves strategically aligned despite differences in terms of social issues, beliefs, regulations, and political dominance. The conflicts and alliances within the boundaries of Arab nations impacts the global landscape in innumerable ways and has great significance.

The Middle East maintains a very definite and elaborate relationship with the rest of the world. Some of these relationships are cordial, others born of necessity and political expediency such as Gulf security, while others are mutually beneficial and actively nurtured. It is very interesting to study and understand the relationship between Arab nations and rest of the world.

Here is a snapshot of the relationships shared with different countries:

With The USA

This relationship depicts an underlying distrust of the fundamentalist values that govern most Arab nations, juxtaposed with an insatiable dependence upon Arab’s vast oil reserves. This high energy consumption is a primary reason that the United States walks a delicate balance in maintaining cordial relationships with Middle East countries despite periodic conflicting priorities. For instance, after 9/11 there were numerous allegations by the U.S. government that some of terrorists originated from Saudi Arabia. This caused a potential rift in relations, but unlike Iran, the dependence on the oil and Saudi Arabia as a formidable ally in the region, the U.S. negotiated terms under which it could continue to receive the much needed petroleum.

"The United States imported approximately 9 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d) of petroleum in 2014 from about 80 countries. Petroleum includes crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, liquefied refinery gases, refined petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel fuel, and biofuels, including ethanol and biodiesel. In 2014, about 80% of gross petroleum imports were crude oil, and about 44% of the crude oil that was processed in U.S. refineries was imported.

The top five source countries of U.S. petroleum imports in 2014 were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq.  The country rankings vary based on gross petroleum imports or net petroleum imports (gross imports minus exports)." (Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration)

The intricate relationship between the U.S. and Saudia Arabia started with ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Ibn Saud’, the founding monarch of Saudi Arabia. The event was initiated by most respected American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt in the year 1951. The outcome of these negotiations forever connected Arab’s oil with American national security.

In the current climate in the Middle East as well as the continuing instability in the entire region, the increasingly interdependent relationship between the kingdom and the U.S. is largely driven by the supply of cheap oil in in exchange for American protection. The ‘hate’ factor cannot be denied as well; as xenophia against all Arabs is rampant in the U.S. in some instances with cause, but in many it is the result of a lack of education and exposure.

With China

The relationship between the Peoples' Republic of China and Saudi Arabia goes beyond the love for ‘oil’ or rather the greed for it. The mutually beneficial relationship is predicated by an exchange of goodsfor petrol. This success of this relationship can be seen in the ubiquity of Chinese goods being sold in throughout the Middle East. Like most countries that are voracious consumers of the low price goods manufactured in China, Saudi Arabia procures many of these items through bilateral agreements in which China gets oil in exchange. In addition, there are a number of infrastructure projects being undertaken by the two countries which include:

  • Saudi Arabia has become increasingly important as an investment location for the Chinese (with the Saudi reciprocating the interest by increasing their presence in China as part of King Abdullah’s “Look East” strategy).
  • Chinese firms have begun to invest in infrastructure and industry in Saudi Arabia, including in an aluminum smelter in the southern province of Jizan, at a cost of US$3 billion.
  • Direct flights from China
    • Beijing-Jeddah (4 flights weekly)
    • Guangzhou-Jeddah (1 flight weekly)
    • Guangzhou-Riyadh (3 flights weekly) (Source: China Briefing)

The Middle East clearly understands that China’s global rise is a force to be reckoned with and that a strong relationship between the two will be mutually beneficial. The price for this relationship is built upon economic and infrastructure interests versus the quid pro quo relationship that exists between the Saudi Arabia and the U.S. which trades oil in exchange for Gulf security.

With India & Other Asian Countries

India has become a major business partner with Saudia Arabia. Like other nations the relationship between the two countries is primarily a "buyer-seller" relationship with oil being the primary commodity. The recent visit of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to New Delhi boosted strategic ties and the two countries agreed to explore ways and means to transform their buyer-seller relationship. According to Saudi Arabia is India's fourth largest trading partner at $43.78 billion in fiscal 2012-13. In the April-November period of the current fiscal, the two-way trade was $32.7 billion. Imports of crude by India form a major part of this trade. Almost one-fifth of India's oil imports come from Saudi Arabia. (Source: Times of India)

Further, India provides companies stationed in Arab nations like the UAE and Qatar with an efficient and cost effective laborer force and the Gulf employment market has benefited immensely from this exchange.

In summary, each of these relationships was initially established on a foundation of oil trade, but have since diversified their partnerships to the mutual benefit of each nation. Call it the greed for oil or the Middle East’s initiative to achieve economic diversification, the ‘love-hate’ relationship that exists between it and other nations will continue to balance on a delicate fulcrum. These relationships, though fraught with dangers, will ultimately result in greater interdependence, increased stability in the region,  and the development of alternate sources of revenue.

Middle East Correspondent: @vinita1204