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Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy indicates clear shift in US view of India and Pakistan over two years

The National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States of America was released on Monday. This 60-odd-page document, the first of its sort by the Donald Trump administration, seeks to outline the US’ internal and external challenges and lay out a roadmap for the year ahead. According to the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department Reorganisation Act of 1986, the publishing of the NSS is meant to be an annual affair. However, barring Ronald Reagan, no president has produced a new NSS every year. In fact, the eight-year tenure of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, only saw two such reports being published.

Getting back to the 2017 edition, there are a number of a notable features of Trump’s ‘strategy of principled realism that is guided by outcomes, not ideology’, like the absence of anything relating to climate change — the document instead dwells on the merits of fossil fuels — and a suspicious view of China and Russia. Most relevant to South Asia, however, are the references to India and Pakistan, particularly when seen as an evolution of how Obama’s NSS of 2015 viewed both countries.

On India

In the 2015 iteration of this text, India found itself mentioned six times — half of which referred to the growing bilateral relationship, something that blossomed during the Obama presidency and has the potential to go even further under Trump.

Stating that the US was “primed to unlock the potential of (its) relationship with India“, the document listed that there were several areas of strategic and economic convergence — “particularly in the areas of security, energy, and the environment” and the “rebalance to Asia and the Pacific. It went on to add that the US recognised the effect “India’s potential” would have on the future of major power relations. Further, along with supporting India’s role as a regional security provider, the document backed its “its expanded participation in critical regional institutions”.

The most palpable theme to emerge was that Washington saw ‘potential’ in New Delhi, but largely saw India as a work-in-progress rather than the finished article.

Flash-forward to 2017 and Trump’s NSS paints India in a very different light: “We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defence partner,” it proclaims and adds that the US will “support its leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region“.

For starters and from the language used, it would appear that the US now sees India as less of a work-in-progress and slightly more as an almost-finished article.

The NSS goes on to state, “We will expand our defence and security cooperation with India, a Major Defence Partner of the United States, and support India’s growing relationships throughout the region” and “We will seek to increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India.” And finally, “…we will encourage India to increase its economic assistance in the region.”

And having seen India as an almost-finished article and made all the right noises (see: leading global power), it’s time for the country to make itself useful. The allusion to quadrilateral cooperation and India’s ‘growing relationships throughout the region’ can be seen as a thinly-veiled reference to the country’s role in the US’ China strategy. And the bit about economic assistance is unmistakably linked to Afghanistan. More on this shortly.

Donald Trump speaks on national security in Washington on Monday. AP

On Pakistan

– We will also work with the countries of the region, including Pakistan, to mitigate the threat from terrorism and to support a viable peace and reconciliation process to end the violence in Afghanistan and improve regional stability.
– “(W)e will continue to work with both India and Pakistan to promote strategic stability, combat terrorism, and advance regional economic integration in South and Central Asia.”

These were the only two references to Pakistan in Obama’s NSS of 2015 and it’s not entirely unthinkable to imagine that Pakistan was still seen — if one goes by the document — as one among a set of countries that could be relied upon to bring about peace to the region. Not, it must be added, as a country responsible for instability or for fostering terrorists.

The NSS of 2017, however, is a very different story. So much so, that it had Pakistani NSA Nasser Khan Janjua up in arms and led to him alleging that the US was showing preferential treatment to India. But what was it that raised his hackles?

The very first mention of the country refers to the threat from “militants operating from within Pakistan” and the very final one to the fact that the US will “insist that Pakistan take decisive action against militant and terrorist groups operating from its soil“. The US, the document adds, seeks “a Pakistan that is not engaged in destabilising behaviour“. It goes on to add that Washington will press Islamabad “to intensify its counterterrorism efforts” and promises that trade and investment relations will be built “as security improves and as Pakistan demonstrates that it will assist the United States in our counterterrorism goals“.

Finally, the document flags a potential India-Pakistan “military conflict that could lead to a nuclear exchange” as an area of grave concern and urges Islamabad “to continue demonstrating that it is a responsible steward of its nuclear assets“.

If it wasn’t just the insinuations against Pakistan, with which Page 50 of the NSS 2017 is replete, that got Janjua’s goat, it’s quite likely it was the tone of the statements about the country that did. It appears to be, in equal parts, an admonishment and a threat. Accusing Pakistan of being engaged in ‘destabilising behaviour’, warning it against being irresponsible with its nukes and ‘insisting’ that it cracks down on terrorists (something, it is implied, Pakistan has shown no inclination to do so far) and challenging it to show continued responsibility with nukes comes across like a school matron disciplining an errant child. The part about the desire to build trade and investment ties can be read as a threat because the wording of the text implies that this won’t happen unless security improves and Pakistan ‘demonstrates’ that it will be part of the counterterrorism effort.

Contrasting the glowing references to India with the nearly-damning ones to Pakistan goes some way in showing just why Janjua reacted the way he did.

Trump's National Security Strategy dwelt on Russia and China, but its references to India and Pakistan were instructive. AP

Trump’s National Security Strategy dwelt on Russia and China, but its references to India and Pakistan were instructive. AP

So what to make of all this?

The Trump administration — and more specifically, the man at the helm of it — has been talking tough on Pakistan ever since it took over in January this year. For instance, in August, when the US approved a $255-million aid package for Pakistan (having provided nearly $33 billion since 2002), Trump said, “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond… We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson added, “We’re going to be conditioning our support for Pakistan and our relationship with them on them delivering results in this area.”

With that in mind, it’s unsurprising to see the sort of language used in various public utterances manifest itself on the pages of the NSS. For the near future, it looks like this public war of words between Islamabad and Washington will continue… largely in the press. Trump or a member of his Cabinet will fire off a salvo at Pakistan. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif or Janjua or someone else will return fire. Frostiness will reign supreme and then a bilateral visit by a secretary or minister will smooth things over until the next salvo. Will this iteration of the NSS make a difference to Pakistan’s relationship with terrorism emanating from its own soil? Hard to be certain, but for now, it seems rather unlikely.

What all this means for India is very different. It would be easy for New Delhi to thumb its nose at China — that took a bit of stick in the NSS — and pat itself on the back about how mighty it has become on the world stage that even the US acknowledges its majesty and gives it the proverbial bhaav. Unfortunately, it looks like the reality is very far removed from this interpretation.

Admittedly, Trump — or his NSS at the very least — acknowledges India as a leader and a partner. However, the lines about India that follow and a cursory reading of the rest of the document indicate that there are three clear areas (and one slightly fuzzy one) in which the US now needs India:

First, as a part of the US strategy to counter China: The references to leadership in the region, New Delhi’s growing relationships in the region and quadrilateral cooperation make this part very clear. Washington is wary of Beijing’s growing clout and using New Delhi as its ‘guy on the inside’ will ostensibly help the US ‘contain’ China, particularly in the South China Sea, without getting its own hands too dirty.

Second, as a part of the US strategy to curb terrorism emanating from Pakistan: All that talk of regional and global leadership when read alongside the lines on Pakistan indicate that the US is not too pleased with Pakistan. And by demonstrating this state of displeasure while talking up India — all publicly, the document gives the impression that Washington has picked a side. In doing so, the effort could be to embolden India to carry on with its actions against Pakistan. Once again, this would save the US the effort of actually getting its hands dirty.

Third, the allusion to India’s economic assistance in the region clearly refers to Afghanistan: New Delhi and Kabul share cordial, if not outright warm, relations and Washington is not unaware. The US drawdown from Afghanistan has been a nightmare that keeps on giving (grief, that is) and costing American taxpayers millions every year. What better way than to pull out of yet another botched endgame in that country than by getting a willing neighbour to foot the bill?

And the fuzzy fourth, three references to the India-US defence partnership in a document that is fairly critical of Russia, could hint at Trump’s willingness to take Moscow (New Delhi’s largest source of arms imports over the years) out of the game by striking better defence deals with India. Despite still having a great deal of warmth and positivity, the India-Russia relationship is at its lowest point since Independence. Could the US be planning to replace Russia in India’s mind space? Perhaps, but it’s far too early to even contemplate the remotest notion of all that.

Of course, there is the fact that India is obviously not going to unquestioningly and obediently follow the US’ instructions on foreign policy. But, the NSS is a good indicator of the roles Washington sees other countries playing. To sum it all up, it’s true that there’s been a major shift in the way the US perceives of India — Washington sees New Delhi as a far more useful player in its game than ever before. It is still too premature and extreme to use the word ‘pawn’ just yet.

Published Date: Dec 19, 2017 03:20 pm | Updated Date: Dec 19, 2017 03:32 pm

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A simple solution to end the encryption debate

Criminals and terrorists, like millions of others, rely on smartphone encryption to protect the information on their mobile devices. But unlike most of us, the data on their phones could endanger lives and pose a great threat to national security.

The challenge for law enforcement, and for us as a society, is how to reconcile the advantages of gaining access to the plans of dangerous individuals with the cost of opening a door to the lives of everyone else. It is the modern manifestation of the age-old conflict between privacy versus security, playing out in our pockets and palms.

One-size-fits all technological solutions, like a manufacturer-built universal backdoor tool for smartphones, likely create more dangers than they prevent. While no solution will be perfect, the best ways to square data access with security concerns require a more nuanced approach that rely on non-technological procedures.

The FBI has increasingly pressed the case that criminals and terrorists use smartphone security measures to avoid detection and investigation, arguing for a technological, cryptographic solution to stop these bad actors from “going dark.” In fact, there are recent reports that the Executive Branch is engaged in discussions to compel manufacturers to build technological tools so law enforcement can read otherwise-encrypted data on smartphones.

But the FBI is also tasked with protecting our nation against cyber threats. Encryption has a critical role in protecting our digital systems against compromises by hackers and thieves. And of course, a centralized data access tool would be a prime target for hackers and criminals. As recent events prove – from the 2016 elections to the recent ransomware attack against government computers in Atlanta – the problem will likely only become worse. Anything that weakens our cyber defenses will only make it more challenging for authorities to balance these “dual mandates” of cybersecurity and law enforcement access.

There is also the problem of internal threats: when they have access to customer data, service providers themselves can misuse or sell it without permission. Once someone’s data is out of their control, they have very limited means to protect it against exploitation. The current, growing scandal around the data harvesting practices on social networking platforms illustrates this risk. Indeed, our company Symphony Communications, a strongly encrypted messaging platform, was formed in the wake of a data misuse scandal by a service provider in the financial services sector.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

So how do we help law enforcement without making data privacy even thornier than it already is? A potential solution is through a non-technological method, sensitive to the needs of all parties involved, that can sometimes solve the tension between government access and data protection while preventing abuse by service providers.

Agreements between some of our clients and the New York State Department of Financial Services (“NYSDFS”), proved popular enough that FBI Director Wray recently pointed to them as a model of “responsible encryption” that solves the problem of “going dark” without compromising robust encryption critical to our nation’s business infrastructure.

The solution requires storage of encryption keys — the codes needed to decrypt data — with third party custodians. Those custodians would not keep these client’s encryption keys. Rather, they give the access tool to clients, and then clients can choose how to use it and to whom they wish to give access. A core component of strong digital security is that a service provider should not have access to client’s unencrypted data nor control over a client’s encryption keys.

The distinction is crucial. This solution is not technological, like backdoor access built by manufacturers or service providers, but a human solution built around customer control.  Such arrangements provide robust protection from criminals hacking the service, but they also prevent customer data harvesting by service providers.

Where clients choose their own custodians, they may subject those custodians to their own, rigorous security requirements. The clients can even split their encryption keys into multiple pieces distributed over different third parties, so that no one custodian can access a client’s data without the cooperation of the others.

This solution protects against hacking and espionage while safeguarding against the misuse of customer content by the service provider. But it is not a model that supports service provider or manufacturer built back doors; our approach keeps the encryption key control in clients’ hands, not ours or the government’s.

A custodial mechanism that utilizes customer-selected third parties is not the answer to every part of the cybersecurity and privacy dilemma. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that this dilemma will submit to a single solution, especially a purely technological one. Our experience shows that reasonable, effective solutions can exist. Technological features are core to such solutions, but just as critical are non-technological considerations. Advancing purely technical answers – no matter how inventive – without working through the checks, balances and risks of implementation would be a mistake.

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