Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fall 2008 Final Exam

Final Exam
DIP 600: National Security Policy
December 16, 2008

Please answer one of the following three questions. Submit your exam by e-mail to Dr. Farley by 10:15am today.

1. Do pirates represent a threat to the national security of the United States? Why or why not? What kind of resources (military and diplomatic) should the United States marshal in the fight against piracy, if any?
2. In the face of an expected Taliban winter offensive, the United States military has begun to retrench around the Afghan capitol of Kabul. Should the US and the Afghan government consider direct talks with the Taliban? Why or why not?
3. The Mumbai attacks may provide what Joe Biden called an early “test” for President Obama. What US national security interests are at stake in the dispute over the attacks? What diplomatic and military resources can the United States use in order to effect a positive outcome?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mugabe to the rescue

We can all rest easy now, Robert Mugabe has officially declared Zimbabwe's crisis with cholera over. All those people dying from cholera like symptoms? Must be a coincidence. In another example of Mugabe's slipping hold on power and reality he announced Thursday that the cholera problem in his country was not a concern anymore. This despite the fact that 800 people have died from this epidemic and around 16000 are estimated to be infected. This is just the official numbers and the actually infection and death rate may be much much higher. Zimbabwe is a country that is prime for strong intervention. The US, France, and UK have all called for Mugabe to not only share power (as was the idea after the disputed elections) but now to simply leave office (according to an AP story from msnbc.com). Whether it be a last legacy act by Bush or a sign that Obama is strong and concerned about the rest of the world, intervention needs to be taken to remove Mugabe from power. No better time than now exists. He has lost allies in Africa, Western Nations agree in calling for his resignation, and his long time allies in South Africa's ruling ANC party are now divided on how to deal with him. Either through direct pressure or through having South Africa apply economic and political pressure, the US needs to step up. If even more drastic actions (covert operations, CIA/US supported coup etc.) one can expect for a coup to be relatively easy and bloodless (well ,relative for Zimbabwe) given the strong opposition to Mugabe domestically, and the simple fact the country can hardly go downhill any more. In order to show the world that the US understands the sovereignty of other nations and importance of multilateral actions, the government needs to act in a way that is widely supported and viewed as responsible and ethical (i.e. world support for removing Mugabe is high). The transition would be as easy as can be hoped for, and the country deserves a better chance to break out of its rock bottom situation.

Sewellian Tippy-Top Gunned Down

In a provocative presentation delivered in the International Intelligence class, we were introduced to the idea of a Sewellian Tippy-Top tax. While the topic is creative, there are several key problems that should have BrenTom rethinking their plans.

They suggest a minimum price of gas at $2.30 forcing citizens to pay more at the pump when the market price is lower. And who really wants that? The tax also creates a burden for those with lower incomes because it is a regressive tax so more percentage of their income goes to gas.

BrenTom’s plan was delivered yesterday to President-Elect Barack Obama. But let’s be honest…any president approving this proposal commits political suicide. How often do the American people trust the government with their tax money? Moreover, they suggested that the money earned from the tax should go to infrastructure. This could easily be money wasted. Take Lexington, for example. The city has this beautiful new infrastructure for the World Equestrian Games but how does that benefit anyone 5 or 10 years from now?

The Sewellian Tippy-Top tax plan also injures oil producers in the United States. The tax would keep the oil prices artificially low because the higher price will reduce domestic consumption. Therefore, a higher price and a lower demand.

So, while I have the greatest respect for the founders of BrenTom, I think it’s time for them to go back to the drawing board and deliver something to Obama that he can believe in.

Getting to the Root of Somali Piracy

While many may make jokes about piracy or even celebrate International Talk like a Pirate Day, piracy in the Horn of Africa is no laughing matter. This Fall has seen a tremendous spike in pirate attacks in and around the Horn of Africa. In addition, pirates have become much more daring in their targets, seizing a Ukrainian ship laden with Russian-made T-72 tanks as well as a Saudi oil tanker, the Sirius Star with its 2 million barrels of oil, nearly a fourth of Saudia Arabia's daily output. The attack on the Saudi oil tanker was particularly brazen, as the attacks occured some 450 miles off the coast, far out of the range of more "traditional" pirates. As a result, these waters have been buffered with a much stronger international naval presence. This November the Indian Navy announced that it had sunk a pirate "mother ship", a larger ship that helps extend the range of pirates by towing fast, maneuverable speed boats far out to sea. An increased naval presence will certainly test the resolve of pirates and pose a threat to their livelihood, but occasional sinkings of pirate ships will not be enough to discourage the Somali pirates. To combat piracy off the coast of Somalia, the international community will first have to deal with the root cause: the failed state of Somalia.

Since 1991, Somalia has possessed at most times a government that could be called nominal at best and non-existent at worst. Since the collapse of Siad Barre's dictatorship, Somalia has suffered through a nearly endless amount of civil war and factionalism. In the early 1990s, the United Nations attempted a peacekeeping mission to bring order to war-torn Somalia. A spike of violence in October 2003, popularized by the movie Black Hawk Down, brought the deaths of 18 Americans and nearly 1000 Somalis, and essentially killed international support for intervention in Somalia. Despite this earlier failure, a military intervention today must not be made a self-fulfilling prophesy doomed to a similar fate. Obviously a military intervention in Somalia would be highly unpopular and the United States is over-streteched and ill-poised to meet the troop demand for such an operation. Nevertheless, the West will have to act, or it will continue to see Somali piracy hurt commerce in the geopolitically important Horn of Africa. These pirates are simply hungry, desperate Somalis trying to make a living through very unsavory means. By no means am I condoning piracy, but killing and/or prosecuting pirates will do nothing to protect them until the greater attention is paid to the failed state that harbors them and allows them to thrive.

The “Change” of Intelligence: FISA

Barack Obama has promised change to the American people, but when it comes to matters of National Security, how much change will we really see? One huge issue is that of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Towards the beginning of the campaign, Obama was an opponent to FISA, claiming it infringed on the civil liberties of American citizens. So mid-way through the campaign his stance on FISA would have strongly impacted United States intelligence and potential security. At the time, his position reflected that of the liberal fringe and he was applauded by many of his supporters. He claimed the US had the ability to track down terrorists without violating the law of rights and liberties.

Although FISA does invade the privacy of American nationals, what would be the implications for national security? Opposing FISA would strongly affect America’s abilities to track terrorists on American soil and abroad. Later, Obama did realize that opposing the Act would limit intelligence gathering methods and endangering human lives. That being said, as of June 2008, Obama reversed his decision and voted for FISA even though the amendments he supported were voted down.

Many will be opposed to his “giving in” to previous policies. And although it invades the privacy of American citizens and foreign nationals, accepting the Act commits stronger values in supporting the security of the United States. Obama believes the bill is for the greater good but has pledged to carefully monitor the program. But will the public be accepting of this or resent him for not standing a firmer ground?....only time will tell.

A “War of the Willing” is waning

Through the short history of the war in Iraq, the Bush administration and US military has worked hard to convey to the American population the extent to which the war has been a multilateral effort. Reports show that, at one point, as many as 34 countries made contributions to the military effort.

There are now as few as 7 countries supporting the efforts with the recently announced discontinued support of Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Moldova, Estonia, Tonga, South Korea, Romania and the Czech Republic as of the end of 2008. Great Britain recently announced its plans to drastically reduce its troop levels to 400 by June of 2009. This could be brushed off as another loss, as the American forces can soak up the loss of only a couple hundred soldiers. Britains made up more than 15% of the original invasion’s force, and still have a stake of around 4000 troops in the country.

It is fair to admit that our country hasn’t done a great job of rallying the nations of the world behind our plunge into the “Middle East’s” front on terror, Iraq. Foreign and domestic criticism has been drawn during the Bush administration. One would suggest that it would be in the US interest to attract as much help as possible in the fight against terror. Unfortunately for our case, we are experiencing a modern day exodus of the willing.

To worsen the world’s view of our handling of the war in Iraq, Blackwater has decided that undermining the developing American-Iraqi relationship is a good idea. Six Americans working for Blackwater have recently been indicted in the killing of 17 innocent Iraqi citizens. Blackwater’s refusal to be tried in Iraqi courts has led to a security pact going into affect on January 1, allowing Iraq to prosecute private contractors. But the deed has already been done. And this was not the first occurrence of the like. With the number of privately contracted troops now outnumbering Alliance troops in the country, the frequency is sure to increase.

Why would democracies of the world want to sacrifice their youth, if the US can pay top dollar to private contractors flying high above the law? No wonder the Iraqi government still struggles to make strong gains towards autonomy from the US.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Price of Security?

(This is an excerpt of something I wrote in 2005 -which supports elements of the civil liberties post below)

“As the price of security, Americans must be prepared to cashier some freedoms, much treasure, and many lives.” These words were published in the United States Naval Institute Journal in 2001. The author continued, “Anticipating retaliation to current military actions, the West must be prepared to institutionalize a passport society, suffer racial profiling, federalize security for airlines, expand search and seizure, and permit extremes in the interrogation of suspected terrorists. Later, it may be necessary to militarize labor, the borders, and civil society in general, and to practice armed retaliation against suspected terrorists and their safe havens.” It is hard to imagine these things taking place in America, yet the pieces are in place for at least four of those things. Search and seizure has been expanded under the Patriot Act. No warrant is necessary now.

The Supreme Court, in the landmark case Terry v. Ohio, (1968), ruled that law enforcement officials could stop someone as long as their was reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is taking place. From this ruling, the concept of racial profiling arose. These ‘objective’ stops were being targeted at disproportionate numbers of black and brown people. When investigating the 9/11 attacks in the days that followed, law enforcement could not deny the fact that the crime was committed by men of middle-eastern descent. The prime suspects, therefore, were individuals with a specific national origin and ethnic background. Later, the religion (Islam) was a factor used to narrow the search.

Has the United States permitted extremes in investigating suspected terrorists? The release of the “torture memos” in 2004 is ample evidence that the government overlooked known torturous activity taking place in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanomo Bay. Harvard’s champion for human rights, Allen Dershowitz proposed a “torture warrant”. He argued that when you have the lives of millions on the line and a terrorist in custody that could prevent it, then torture becomes a matter of law. We have to choose the “lesser evil”, he says.

Are we moving toward a passport society? First consider the history of our I.D. cards. Driver’s licenses were originally intended to prove mental and physical capacity to drive. Now they are used as a definite form of identification. Social Security numbers were intended to provide access to a government sponsored retirement system. Now you have to have one to conduct banking activities, rent an apartment, and file taxes.

In the wake of 9/11, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, along with Dershowitz, proposed a national
I.D. card required for travel from state to state. Ellison even offered to manufacture the cards for the government. These I.D. cards would be called a ‘smart card’. An identification card with a small computer chip embedded in it. This chip would contain your financial information, medical records, criminal history, and even have a stored value used to replace paper currency. These systems are beginning to be put in place in the UK and other European countries.


That was April 2005. Now we have xray body searches at airports, congress voting on a national id act, and the 'torture memos' I alluded to turning into a full blown national debate.

Where Have Our Civil Liberties Gone?

During this holiday season Americans increase their travel via airplanes to see loved ones across our nation or overseas. During the screening process at airports, we are subjected to several inspections that infringe on our civil liberties that we hold dear in this country. Granted that I don’t have a ton of experience flying, but when I have traveled through airport security it seems that the federal government is creating more and more ways to overstep my civil liberties granted by the Constitution. At what point will Americans say enough is enough and stop letting the government infringe on their rights.

As an American, should I not be able to take a gun or knife on a plane with me if I want to? Isn’t our country founded on the principles of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights? Why does the government have the right to prevent me from doing these things?

In the current world that we live in with the Global War on Terror, Americans have seemed very willing to sacrifice their civil liberties in order to be more secure from terrorist attacks. At airports, passengers are randomly pulled aside and subjected to a process that often involves taking off one’s clothes down to their under garments. Granted that this is done behind closed doors, why should we let the government humiliate us in this manner? Americans have also accepted the consequences of the Patriot Act, which allowed federal agents to wiretap phone lines of people that had suspected ties to terrorists. What gives the government the right to listen to my private conversations?

When Americans feel threatened they are often willing to sacrifice things that they hold dear in order to be secure. However, what will Americans do if one day the government tells them that they can no longer own guns or that magazines and newspapers can’t publish articles that criticize the government? The line has to be drawn somewhere. Maybe it’s with no new airport security measures or now new laws prohibiting how guns can be used or carried. If we don’t, then the government will continue placing more restrictions on Americans’ civil liberties during times of crisis and then not remove them later.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Strange Bedfellows parting ways?

To many it may seem to be ironic, even counterproductive that the country that is the target of many terrorist attacks and aggression, would partner with the country where most of these terrorist organizations were based. This would seem an opportunity to help stem the problem at its base right? Well not so much if the intelligence services that have power in that country are well known to have ties to the very organizations the US is trying to hunt down. Well strange as it may sound we all know that this is the truth about the relationship between the US and Pakistan. Over the past few years the US has courted heavily the government of Pakistan in an attempt to gain insight on terrorist activities. Increasing distrust of the Pakistani government by the public, an increasingly uncooperative Pakistani administration, and now Pakistani intelligence connection/cover-up / link to the Mumbai terror attacks. Yesterday the government of Pakistan announced it had put suspected terrorist leader Mashood Azhar under house arrest. This token action just drew scoffs from US and Indian leaders, this is the second time Azhar has been "arrested" and the evidence linking him to the 2001 Indian Parliament bombing. In addition to this non-committal act, Pakistan was quick to condemn the attacks, but has shown considerable foot dragging in working with India in investigating the attacks. This is just the latest in a series of catch and release actions that the Pakistani government does with suspected terrorist leaders. This is also just the last in a long line of actions that show that Pakistan is simply not the ally that the US once thought it was. It is not turning over key suspects to investigation, has forbade the US from conducting action on its soil, and has ISI officers with deep connections to the terrorist themselves. The US government should stop now in supporting and funding a nation that is an ally of the US in image only. Whether from deliberate deceit of the US or simply the result of a government that has lost control of its people, Pakistan is no longer the help we once hoped it would be.

Senate seat, get your Senate seat!!

It seems that not even the good ol' U S of A is free from political corruption, as we've seen in the recent scandal involving Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich. Governor Blagojevich was arrested for allegedly trying to trade or sell President-elect Barrack Obama's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. This is certainly not something to be taken lightly, as several high-profile Senate seats will soon be filled, with Senators Obama, Biden and Clinton all leaving in January 2009. The dilemma is clear- do we want seats in our Senate to be open to the highest bidder, as merely political prizes that are capable of being bought? Do we then want these men (and women) to be making important decisions in the national security arena?? Obviously, the answer is no.

This scandal calls into question, however, the very long-held practice of allowing state governors to appoint interim Senators to fill part or all of an unexpired term. Some states, like Oregon and Wisconsin, do not allow the governor to make an appointment and instead hold general elections to fill any unexpired term. Five other states-Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Wyoming and Utah- place some restrictions on the governor's power to appoint an interim Senator. Perhaps all states, however, should follow the lead of Oregon and Wisconsin and remove the power of appointing interim Senators from the governor. Although elections are certainly not free from corruption, especially in Illinois (see 1960 Presidential elections), they are certainly more democratic and more difficult to influence than simply paying off a state governor.

One good sign, however, from all of this is the fact that corruption in the United States, while certainly existent, is not nearly as bad as in other countries. Unlike some countries, like Russia or Angola, corruption in America is not endemic and viewed as simply part of doing business. Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks the United States 18th out of 180 surveyed countries with a score of 7.3, out of 10. While certainly not the worst, the United States must certainly approve. Putting a price on a Senate seat and offering it to the highest bidder rather than the most qualified, is a dangerous bet to make, when one considers the importance of the Senate to our national security. Governor Blagojevich should be dealt with swiftly, so other governors can be warned that an indiscretion of this magnitude is simply not acceptable.

On Terrorists and Monsters

"We're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here."

So went the Bush Administration's refrain for justifying the Iraq war for most of its second term.
General Richard Clarke nicely critiqued this theory when he called for Bush's "Puppy-dog theory of terrorism" to be put to sleep. He said:

Does the President think terrorists are puppy dogs? He keeps saying that terrorists will "follow us home" like lost dogs. This will only happen, however, he says, if we "lose" in Iraq.

The puppy dog theory is the corollary to earlier sloganeering that proved the President had never studied logic: "We are fighting terrorists in Iraq so that we will not have to face them and fight them in the streets of our own cities."

Remarkably, in his attempt to embrace the failed Iraqi adventure even more than the President, Sen. John McCain is now parroting the line. "We lose this war and come home, they'll follow us home," he says.

What's truly odd is how this three year-old's theory about monsters matches precisely with Bush's theory of terrorism. "If he gonna come in here....he will kick my ass....so I'm gonna kick his ass!"

An Agent of Change = A Prime Target

In the United States, the concept of national security is often thought of in terms of borders, bombs, and the balance of power. Government and civic officials spend countless hours and enormous sums of money on the protection and security of the citizens of the United States of America, and rightfully so. It is not often, however, that we equate national security with the safety of one man. For many different reasons, the election of Barack Obama has incited concern about the wellbeing of the president-elect and the future of the United States. The worrisome logic is as follows: How safe can America be if we cannot ensure the safety of our Commander and Chief? If our leader is vulnerable, then aren’t we as well?

This may be true, but the government is doing the most that is humanly possible to shield Obama from any looming danger. In fact, Barack Obama has been surrounded by several Secret Service agents since May 3, 2007, the earliest any candidate has been provided this type of protection in American history. With his growing popularity and his constant exposure to the public, president-elect Obama, or Renegade, is under the constant surveillance of the security guards, police, and the Secret Service. In fact, media officials and photographers have “complained about the aggressive tactics of Mr. Obama’s protectors” claiming that [they] “flank him at every stop, making photographs difficult.” During the campaign, several people standing in chairs to take pictures of the presidential candidate were ordered to get down, because their height posed a security threat to Mr. Obama.

Even more precautionary measures were taken after Obama won the presidential election. While Obama wooed the crowd with his acceptance speech, he was shielded by bullet-proof plexiglass. Nonetheless, anxieties still abound, as 500 threats against Obama’s life have already been investigated by the Secret Service. Some of the more serious threats include a gun-toting group of men from Denver and two skinheads from Tennessee who plotted to assassinate Senator Obama and kill black children while they were at school.

Though it is true that Barack Obama does face serious dangers, are they really any different than the risks taken by any other president? An attempted assassination was made on former president Ronald Reagan, without regard to the color of his skin. Can the increased vulnerability be correlated with race, or is it something else about Obama? Of course, as the first African-American president, racism will cast a shadow on his presidency. On the day after the election, stormfront.org, a popular white supremacist web site added over 2,000 members. The website has currently been shut down in order to manage the overwhelming amount of activity it received after Election Day. One Stormfront representative stated, “"I want the SOB laid out in a box to see how 'messiahs' come to rest. God has abandoned us, this country is doomed." No wonder people are worried.

Speaking of God and doomsday, the infamous Westboro Baptist Church suggests another reason why Obama is different from all former presidents: he’s the Antichrist. From a recent sermon comes the quote,”Woe unto Antichrist Obama ! Woe unto his henchmen comprising his campaign team, his so-called transition team, his administration, and the doomed nation that elected him!” It is not surprising, therefore, that some fanatical people think that he needs to go, since he will ultimately destroy the world.

One final theory appears to be the most logical; people are afraid of change. Yes, Obama is black, but, more than anything, he is different. He is “The Other.” People often have a hard time accepting “agents of change,” as Obama has declared himself. Former Secret Service agent, Joseph Funk, proposes that “in the security world, anything “new” can trigger hostility.” So, even though Obama’s skin color does rub some people the wrong way, it is possible that threats and Internet chatter have more to do with the “new” element than the race factor. But race is certainly an issue. Ask the KKK.

What's Happening in Greece and What's in Store for the Karamanlis Government?

It is hard to escape the widespread media coverage of the Greek riots that have been carrying on for days. Greek civilians, mainly youths, have been violently protesting against the police force and government ever since the police shooting and killing of fifteen year old Alexandros. Protestors have resorted to burning stores and cars, throwing stones at policemen, rioting in the streets, and using the media as an outlet to publicize their outrage concerning the situation. According an article in Time magazine, “Some 320 stores, 50 banks, and a number of civilian buildings have been damaged or destroyed in Athens.” Among these buildings was Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy and the Hellenic Parliament Foundation. Some sources reveal that an augmentation of the protests is nowhere in sight.

As an American outsider, viewing this display of outrage and disapproval being carried out by the Greek citizenry seems absurd. It makes it difficult to even analyze the situation and even more so to choose a side to sympathize with. On the one side, there are the policemen who were involved in the shooting. They claim that they were alarmed when nearly 30 youths attacked their patrol car, and out of self defense, they fired warning shots to scare the youngsters. Moreover, they say that shooting the boy was unintentional and that he was unknowingly targeted.

On the other hand, there are thousands of vexed Greeks who share a different story, one that highlights their dissatisfaction with the police. They emphasize police inadequacies of reducing high rates of crime and in the police’s refusal to answer emergency calls; furthermore, they accused the police of being corrupt. After all, this is not the first time conflicts have erupted between the two groups. In the city where the boy was shot, clashes between the police force and anarchic groups are evidently a frequent occurrence. So what has erupted into—from what an outside perceives—as an exaggerated violent episode appears to be the result of an ongoing battle.

The question posed now is how far will these youths go to get what they want, and really, what is it that they want? After all, Prime Minister Karamanlis has already promised investigations and a fair trial and the policemen involved in the situation have been taken into custody. But even though he made these statements clear on the day of the outbreak of protests, it has done little to appease the unhappy Greeks. Is it farfetched to think that maybe the protestors are pushing for a change in government? George Papandreou, leader of the center-left opposition, ridiculed Karamanlis for his government’s inability to control the situation and suggested that his government step down. Is it unlikely that Karamanlis’s government will step down? It is hard to say, but I wouldn’t exclude this as an option. Not only is Karamanlis’s government faced with these violent riots but Greek unions have staged a strike in protest against the government’s economic policies. It looks as though Karamanlis has a lot of social unrest to deal with and how he and his government plan to do so is uncertain.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Food For Thought

Appropriate for the holiday season as we gorge ourselves, two weeks ago, the Daewoo Logistics Corporation of South Korea announced it had set up an agreement with the government of Madagascar to lease 1.3 million hectares (thats the measurement used in regards to fields and crops, in this case its about half the size of Belgium) for 99 years to plant corn and palm oil fields. This food and biofuel is to be exclusively repatriated back to Korea (3/4 of the land will be corn). What does this have to do with national security? Agriculture and food is the quintessential necessary industrial to support a stable government, effective military, and workforce population. In the US our food industries are so well developed we hardly consider the effect a war/natural disaster/ect. would have on our food supply. We are hardly affected by the ongoing world food price crisis but from Haiti to Egypt riots and violence are spreading. Korea is attempting to avoid this issue but unlike the US is not blessed with an incredibly productive climate and land system suitable for farming. In leasing this land (which will be ran and managed by Koreans but worked by people from Madagascar) some fear Korea is jump starting a neo-colonialism idea. Several Middle-Eastern countries have done this on a smaller scale in other African countries already. The people of Madagascar would benefit more from effective government assistance and land reform that allowed them to grow their own food (starvation is rampant in the country) then the meager wages they will receive. The lease is giving more than one third of Madagascar's arable land to another nation. This is simply modern Tenet farming and that practice has been abandoned as corrupt and unfair in developed countries. The governments of these poor countries are quick to court these types of deals since like any natural resource boom (or trap, as the Bottom Billion book suggests) is sure to swell the pockets of those in power. Also, in the worst case scenarios, Korea may be forced to station troops in Madagascar to protect its property and vital national interests, something that clearly has the potential to create tensions and all out conflict in the future.
While this idea may seem like a great idea for Korea, the benefits to the other countries involved are so minor it borders (or fits well into) the definition of national exploitation, something that no responsible government should condone.

Article originally posted in the Financial Times, November 22, by Javier Blas

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Again! dem Chinese.

As you may already know, the growing strength of China continues to generate new and evermore serious threats to U.S. national interests. According to al Jazeera we have one more reason to worry. The pertinent article, titled, "China 'winning cyber war' US told" expounds on a recently released congressional report which details the reality and strength of Chinese cyber-intelligence operations aimed at the United States. Unsurprisingly, the conclusion of the report enumerates the significant security and economic concerns precipitated by the success of Chinese operations and the exposure of U.S. interests.

To begin, the report examines the staggering exposure of sensitive information vital to U.S. interests. Chinese hacker have successfully penetrated the websites and networks operated by the U.S. government, defense contractors, and private businesses. Obviously, this situation undermines the effective synthesis of intelligence, the successful execution of U.S. intelligence operations, and places the intelligence network and private firms in a strategically weaker position.

Having acknowledged this scenario, the reality of an asymetric advantage for the Chinese becomes ever-larger. With no effective defense in place, and theoretcially all essential/sensitive networks compromised, the United States is in danger of meekly surrendering invaluable strength and influence through a leaking pipe. This loss of control and containment in turn jeopardizes the strength and capabilities of the military, economic, and diplomatic operations of the United States.

In addition, the report contemplates the possibility of U.S. conventional forces being weakened by the effective conduct of Chinese-originated cyber-warfare operations. Porous communication lines as well as compromised schematic and strategic plans would likely mean the loss of effective force projection, mobilization, and implementation. This scenario would be indescribably dangerous to U.S. interests.

In conclusion, the reality of Chinese cyber-warfare capabilities - and their obvious and unabashed commitment to expanding such capabilities - places the U.S. in a critical zone of strategic decision. The U.S. must obviously alter its approach to dealing with this new and increasingly dangerous Chinese capability. However, the challenge is determining whether to devote resources to offense or defense. Does the U.S. attempt to secure an already compromised communication network (which has become indispensable in speed and integration) or does it increase its own capabilities to penetrate Chinese networks, gather intelligence, and perhaps disrupt operations on the other end of the spectrum.

Sweet and Sour China?

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an article on the impact the global financial crisis is having on migrant workers in China. According to the article, migrants in China's urban centers are losing jobs quickly as employers seek to let them go due to the decline in demand for Chinese goods. Many of these workers are returning to their homes in China's rural areas, but this mass migration from the urban to rural areas is having an impact on issues from food security to social unrest.

Migrant workers returning to their farms in the rural areas face issues of food insecurity because they no longer have an income level that allows them to provide for their families. They also face problems resulting from and inability to farm lands either because the lands have been leased to cooperatives, or because migrants do not know how to grow food. Some do not even have the necessary resources to produce enough food to subsist. With a rise in migration from the cities to rural areas, China faces major issues of instability.

Stability in China is a major issue for the Chinese government. As long as the global financial crisis continues, Chinese workers will worry about having jobs. As world demand for cheap Chinese goods falls, China risks continued unrest due to unemployment and migration. As unemployment rises, maintaining stability becomes more difficult. Perry Link, professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton, in an interview for Harper's Magazine in August 2008, notes that "Anger over the growing gap between rich and poor is a fundamental cause of instability in China." As migrants return home, they may become increasingly resentful toward the wealthier middle class.

The individuals currently facing unemployment in China are predominantly the rural poor. The key to stability in China is the satisfaction of the middle class, and as long as the Chinese government can protect the middle class from the unrest and dissatisfaction of the rural poor, it will be able to maintain stability. If not, then China may face a new domestic crisis, which might force China's government to turn toward its own problems and away from its foreign policy emphases. This could have implications for China's actions in Africa.

Ian Taylor's work on China's engagement in Africa in the 1990s suggests that prior to the Tiananmen Square incident in China in 1989, Chinese aid to Africa had declined rapidly through the 1980s as China began to focus more on domestic growth in relation to the United States and Japan. Due to the current financial crisis, African nations could see a repeat of this policy. In the last several years, Chinese aid to Africa has increased dramatically. China's increased need for natural resources, especially oil, has pushed the policy for investment in Africa. China currently supports many autocratic regimes on the continent, and these regimes receive a lot of their financial support from China. If China has to focus on preventing a domestic uprising, it may opt to decrease or even end its emphasis on aid in Africa. China's problems at home could contribute to global instability if the country cannot continue to assist Africa's poor as well.

Western aid to Africa has already seen a decline as Western nations are consumed with preventing complete financial meltdown at home. Should China cease financial aid to Africa as well, there could be serious repercussions as African leaders and nations face a potential shortfall of financial resources. There are perhaps other consequences for Chinese economic decline. Already China is facing a sharp decline in economic growth for at least the next year. Continued decline for one of the most important manufacturing economies could have further implications on escaping the current financial crisis, not just in China, but around the world.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Is AIDS still really an issue?

We couldn't let World AIDS Day pass without having some sort of HIV/AIDS post, could we?

Does anyone else remember how rocked the world was when Magic Johnson announced on November 7, 1991 that he was HIV positive? It was the first celebrity that had been diagnosed with the virus that causes AIDS and was viewed as a death sentence. Most people believed that Magic would be dead before the year 2000. So here we are 17 years later and no one ever connects(at least publicly) Magic Johnson and AIDS anymore. How did that happen?

A lot has changed in the world since 1991 on the AIDS front. While there is still currently no cure for HIV, potent drug cocktails and lifestyle changes can push the disease into remission. This has caused many doctors and other experts to wonder as to whether or not HIV is the disease it was all cracked up to be.

In 1991, the question was for the quality of life for AIDS patients. Can they lead semi-normal lives? In 2008, the question has vastly changed. Now the question is if we spend too much on AIDS prevention and research.

HIV/AIDS has been, at least, contained in much of the world. True, it remains rampant in parts of Africa but the vast majority of the world has the spread of the disease under control. Couple that with the drug cocktails and those afflicted are leading very normal, long lives. No longer is the disease a death sentence. These developments have driven many to believe that too many dollars are allocated to AIDS. "AIDS is a terrible humanitarian tragedy, but it's just one of many terrible humanitarian tragedies," said Jeremy Shiffman, who studies health spending at Syracuse University. In fact, donations from the West for AIDS in Africa routinely outstrip the health budgets for countries like Uganda and Rwanda. This may seem all well and good, but then you must know that diarrhea kills 5 times as many people as HIV/AIDS in Africa. At last check, we didn't celebrate World Diarrhea Day. I would imagine we'd use a brown ribbon to commemorate that.

We should be proud of our accomplishments. We've taken a once-deadly disease and effectively neutralized it in a majority of the world. But has the time come to withdraw and reallocate some resources when it comes to the fight against AIDS? The red ribbon cause continues to be one of the sexiest out there, but at this point are we allowing more people to die because we're too fixated on AIDS?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

And The List Grows

Obama has picked his National Security Advisor, retired General James L. Jones. According to the New York Times, Jones is considered a moderate and considers John McCain a good friend, while he has only met the President-Elect a handful of times. This appointment follows the appointment of Hilary Clinton to State and the announcement that Gates will be staying at the Pentagon. The NYT article brings up the point that Jones will most likely be serving as a mediator between the two with Gates being a hold-over from the current administration and Clinton being a vocal critic of this administration.

But as National Security Advisor, Jones will have the ear of the President more easily than Clinton will. The National Security Advisor works in the West Wing, while obviously Secretaries of State and Defense do not. This may create some tension between Clinton and Jones if they disagree on policy, which is very possible.

But Jones has an impressive history when it comes to foreign policy as he was supreme allied commander in Europe during the war in Bosnia and the American campaign in Kosovo. He lived in Paris for almost his entire childhood and is respected by both parties. And according to the NYT article, Jones had some success in some Israeli-Palestinian disputes, so he obviously can be effective and can lead people in the right direction.

Whether he can create a favorable relationship with a man he doesn't know very well to become one of Obama's top advisors is still to be seen. But hopefully, as Obama has little experience in foreign policy (as we all heard many times in the last election) he will be smart enough to listen to what Jones has to say.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Inevitable Collapse of the United States

Could the current global financial crisis, two wars, a coming credit crisis, polarized political parties and volatile fuel prices cause the United States to splinter into separate countries? Some tend to think so.

Igor Panarin, a professor at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow sees the US breaking up into six countries in the near future, brought on by the financial crisis. What might the US look like post-split? Panarin envisions Texas as its own nation, the Pacific States, Atlantic/New England States, The Hispanic South, The Canadian North and the no-man's land of the Central US. I've taken the liberty of drawing out what such a place would look like. As you see, I've lumped Kentucky in with the Hispanic South. Here's a link to help you prepare for what's to come. Alaska would more than likely be "returned" to Russia, as it's just leased to us, anyway. Hawaii will just continue to be the land of rainbows.

Of course, I had to chuckle to myself when I read this article. I mean, this guy is calling out the US when Russia is having problems hanging on to its own territories? Though there is playful talk of Texas being its own country, no one believes it will ever happen. But what about Tatarstan? Chechnya? Dagestan? These all have serious separatist movements that could, at any time, cause trouble for the Russian state. More than likely this guy just likes to see his name in the headlines. But it does make for an interesting topic of conversation.

It's been a popular sentiment over the years that the end of the United States is nigh. Even though at this juncture in history is appears the the US is more politically divided than ever, it would take an issue of enormous proportions to strain the States enough to even consider breaking. What say you? Could the US ever split?

But, if you do decide to start a separatist movement, I know where you can get some advice.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Technology against Pirates

Incidences of piracy off of the Somali coast are threatening the safety of commercial ships increasingly. The pirates seem to be getting bolder and requesting higher ransoms. Two weeks ago, the Saudi oil tanker Sirius Star was hijacked and currently $25 million is being requested for its release. The ship is said to be carrying around $100 million worth of oil. The problem is that these commercial freighters have small crews, International Maritime law forbids commercial vessels to carry any weapons for self defense and they are thus easy prey for pirates who are equipped with small fast speedboats and only a hand full of weapons.
A report by the German navy caught my attention a few days ago that reported on a technological development that is now increasingly being considered by the owners of commercial shipping vessels to protect them from an attack by pirates. The International Defense Online Magazine also reports on this device, which is called the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). Its was originally developed as a crowd control device and is also used by American warships to warn vessels approaching without permission, like a megaphone.  But the interesting part is that the LRAD also has an impact on the hearing, vision and overall well-being of people.  Thus, it serves s a non-lethal weapon.
The LRAD looks like a big loudspeaker, weighs about 40 pounds and is around 30 inches is diameter. It emits sound in a 30 degree beam at a high frequency that, at its maximum volume, permanently damages hearing and exceeds the normal human threshold of pain (120-140 dB) at a distance of one meter. At around 300 meters, its volume is around 90 dB. The sound also causes loss of balance and nausea. The device is used to transmit warnings and high pitched sound.
Recently, the LRAD has been used in the port of Basra and other places in Iraq for communication purposes and it has been used on cruise ships. The Seabourn Cruise Line had the device installed as part of its defense system and in 2005, it was activated to effectively counter a pirate attack 160 km off of the Somali coast. There have recently been new orders placed by the U.S. military to the manufacturer American Technology Corporation for force protection in the Middle East, especially Iraq. It is expected that commercial orders will follow soon, if the piracy activity stays at the current level.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer?

Love her or hate her, Senator Hillary Clinton is now one of the most recognizable faces in American politics. She knows how to act gracefully and she knows how to throw punches. She also knows how to rally the support of millions of Americans…but what about the support of the rest of the world? In the last few weeks, there has been anxious chatter concerning the nomination of Sen. Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State to the Obama administration. Though it is still unclear as to whether she will accept this position, many analysts on both the left and the right agree that she is qualified for the position.

However, many are concerned that the quarrelsome history and diverse ideologies of Obama and Clinton could undermine the administration’s cohesiveness on foreign policy, much like that of the Bush administration. After all, Senator Clinton did criticize Obama for his willingness to negotiate with leaders of Cuba and Iran. Also, during the primary election, Obama was quick to mention the Sen. Clinton had voted in support of the war in Iraq. In fact, Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, declares that appointing Senator Clinton would be a “downright betrayal” of those “who supported Obama during the campaign because of his early opposition to the war” and due to his persistent argument that “judgment is more important than experience.” Several political analysts assert that constructing a “team of rivals” such as this will not be conducive to the change that Obama promised during his campaign. Nonetheless, if the rumors are true and the Obama team does choose Clinton as the Secretary of State, there must be a reason. But what is it, exactly?

Some pundits suggest that Obama’s gesture is not as benevolent as it may seem. David Frum, one of Bush’s former speech writers, claims, “he's putting her into his Cabinet in order to control her” and that it is a “pretty impressive display of tough politics.” As the argument goes, as long as Hillary Clinton is working for an Obama administration, the less time she will have to work against him in 2012.

Perhaps, however, the Obama administration believes that she can play the role of team member as effectively as she did that of adversary. Lawrence Wilkerson, a chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, proposes that Senator Clinton and President-elect Barack Obama have the potential to be a “good team” as long as she was appointed to be a partner of the president and was not simply appointed in order to “neutralize” her. She is, after all, respected in the international community and has been known to take a harder line on foreign policy issues than Obama. Many suggest that they can form a “good cop/bad cop” relationship, which would allow them to make more international breakthroughs than either former President Bill Clinton or President Bush by utilizing “coercive diplomacy.” In order to not send mixed signals, however, Senator Clinton may need to tone down her rhetoric concerning key issues like nuclear Iran if she is actually appointed as Secretary of State.

Senator Clinton, nonetheless, is an ideal candidate for the position, since she is “competent, learns fast, knows how to work the diplomatic ropes and is unlikely to repeat any errors that she made in the past.” Even though they have had conflicts in the past, adding Senator Clinton to an Obama team does not mean that the Obama is diverging from the course he has outlined. Though it will be tricky, it is possible to maintain a functioning Cabinet of critics as opposed to only appointing “yes-men” (and women). Remember Lincoln?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Libya: Which Way Do We Go?

Since 2003, Libya and Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gadhafi have been working feverishly to move back into the global community by renouncing, investigating, deporting, and punishing those within it's border that are or were responsible for terrorism. Moreover, in December of 2003, they agreed to reveal and end their WMD programs. (Without doubt, the seemingly unstoppable US military juggernaut that was crushing the Iraqi armed forces at the time played a large role in his behavior...after all, it certainly put credibility behind Bush's message of "If you're not with us, you're against us.")

Because of these "good faith" gestures, the US and its allies have begun the process of bringing Libya back in from the cold. In June 2006, the US removed Libya from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, and in September of 2008, Condoleezza Rice visited Reagan's "mad dog of the Middle East" on his turf; this was the first American senior official to visit in 50 years.

Furthermore, the international community has also initiated relations through both commercial and governmental liaison. France has established a program to tie nuclear power generation to a desalinization unit. With this facility operational, Libya would have a solution to its largest problem: water scarcity. Also, as a somewhat recent emerger on the world oil production scene, Libya has established itself as a premier exporter of crude, refined petroleum, and natural gas to some powerful US allies: Italy, Spain, Germany, and France.

Certainly, Gadhafi's actions have been great for Libya. Libyans exist fairly well on a per capita earning of $12,400, and education, life expectancy, and population growth all seem to be on the rise. With all of this, some might view this former terrorist supporter (if not organizer) as wholly reformed. In the great words of ESPN's Lee Corso, "not so fact, my friends..."

Certainly, Libya has come a long way. In fact, it has met the benchmarks of the 2006 National Security Strategy in many ways. The NSS includes the following as three of its top four priorities...(http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss/2006/sectionI.html)
  • Strengthen alliances as to defeat global terrorism and work to prevent attacks against us and our friends
  • Work with others to defuse regional conflicts
  • Prevent enemies from threatening us, our allies, and our friends with WMD

Each of these ideas seems to fit rather well into the case of Libyan resurgence as a legit global player, but let us not forget the first, and most often mentioned portion of the National Security Strategy...

  1. Champion Aspirations for Human Dignity

Let's take a look at Libya's current rap-sheet:

Libya is a transit and destination location for the human trafficking of both men and women from the sub-Saharan and Asian locations for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ly.html For failing to show improvement in investigating and prosecuting these acts, it is currently on the Tier 2 Watch List. Libya has ongoing (albeit dormant) territorial disputes with both Algeria and Chad. It also acts as a host to Chadian rebels from the Aozou region. Furthermore, it is on the radar of the Human Rights Watch for the incarceration of political prisoners, for failing to promote freedom of expression and assembly, and for torturing prisoners by means of clubbing, electro-shock, finger-breaking, and suffocation by plastic bag (and I thought those things had warning labels!!)

Does this contradiction in Libyan behavior put US policy makers in a bind? Are Ghadafi's reconciliations sufficient for the US and her allies to overlook human rights violations? If you ask me, I'd say...

"Libya, you have shown yourselves as a responsible nation, but we are concerned about the manner in which you view human dignity. Please continue to support the international quest to destroy terror networks, Your knowledge through participation in them is critical to our success. Also, your transparency about WMD is a tremendous example to other nations of the Middle East. In order to demonstrate our appreciation for this, we will support your mission to end human trafficking to and through your nation. We will also assist, as the French have, in solving your water scarcity concerns. For this, we ask that you continue to reform in terms of human rights. You have shown that you will change to become a more responsible global player, and we will reward you for that. You must continue to move in the right direction or we will cease aid to you and your people."

In other words, it took awhile, but the use of the stick with Libya eventually paid off. By using carrots, Libya can continue to evolve into a beacon of human dignity and global responsibility for northern Africa and the Middle East.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Food for Thought

When we sit down to stuff ourselves next week on Thanksgiving, we will reflect upon our good fortune to have the food in front of us. Yet, perhaps we should be more cautious of what exactly we will be gorging ourselves on. The US currently imports billions of dollars worth of food from foreign producers and manufacturers, and the government only inspects a small portion of that. There have been some initiatives to address this gaping hole in the US food supply, but so far the effort has not been enough to secure the nation's food supply.

This week, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it is opening offices across China to monitor and inspect food that is destined for US markets. The offices, opening in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, will be staffed by both American and Chinese officials who will not only inspect food, but also work with the Chinese to establish certification of products bound for consumption in America. This comes at the end of a widely publicized scandal involving the use of melamine in children’s formula that has reportedly killed four Chinese babies, left thousands of other children in the hospital, and led to recalls and import bans of Chinese products in Asia, Europe and the US.

Although the latest scandal has come out of China, there have been concerns coming from other nations as well. For instance, this summer tomatoes and jalapenos from Mexico were responsible for sickening over a thousand salsa-loving Americans. The concerns about food safety are as numerous as our trade partners. For this reason, the FDA has plans to open up a number of other offices in Latin America, Europe and India for the same type of monitoring as is going on in China.

Although these efforts have been couched in the issue of general food safety, much of this activity has been fueled by fears about attacks on the nation’s food supply. After 9/11, the government and the media began a long exercise of contemplating and addressing any and every possible aspect of infrastructure that could be vulnerable to a terrorist attack, and our food was one major worry. As a result, the FDA set up a number of programs, action plans and studies that fall under their Food Defense initiative. With only 1% of imported food being inspected by the FDA inside the nation’s borders as of 2007, the step to go directly to the producing country may be a good alternative.

Unfortunately, with only eighteen employees in Beijing, it will be impossible for US officials to effectively inspect all, or even a representative amount, of the products coming from China. Moreover, it highlights the problems in trying to secure any type of product imported into America. With a large, open economy like the US (which is also a net importer), it will be impossible to ensure the safety of products without slowing the flow of products to an inefficient level.

This leads to a number of questions: Is there a trade off between having an open economy and being secure? If so, which one should win out? Would people be willing to put up with delays and possibly higher prices associated with the extra time and effort that would go into a more thorough inspection process of our food supply? Would foreign suppliers and their governments feel like they were being singled out, or that our procedures were really put in place to be a non-trade barrier to their products? These questions, though tough to answer, will need to be addressed. Because, as those affect by the tainted food scandals of the recent past can attest, food imports can be an issue of life and death.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mummies--China is Getting Sexier

Archaeological findings in China may be the evidence that Uighur nationalists in the autonomous region of Xinjiang Uighur have been awaiting. Over the past few decades, more than 200 “well-preserved mummies” have been discovered in the western deserts of the region which could provide evidence to answer the question--who settled in western China and for how long has this region been a part of the Chinese empire? Mummies such as the “Loulan Beauty” and the “Cherchan Man” have been preserved for thousands of years and may provide the historical evidence necessary for the Uighurs to gain leverage in the struggle with the Chinese government. However, the Uighurs should not indulge in excitement too soon because it is highly unlikely that China’s government is willing to loosen its grip on the region just yet; after all, Xinjiang derives its wealth from vast minerals and oil deposits all of which are in China’s best interest to hang on to.
According to research provided by the Council on Foreign Relations, Xinjiang accounts for roughly a sixth of China and the region consists of twenty million people with the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people, making up nearly half of the population. The Uighurs claim that China’s presence in the region is imperialistic; however, the Chinese government refutes the claim by declaring that the area rightfully became a part of China in 1949 after The Communist Party took over the territory.
From studying the mummies, some scholars suggest that the region has been a historic “melting pot” that has attracted inhabitants from outside of Chinese territory, even from Europe and the west. In contrast, other theories imply that some of the mummies are from East Asia; however, these were not the oldest mummies excavated. The interpretations are inconclusive, and China’s government is devoting its efforts to keep it that way. Moreover, China has refused to allow scientists from outside of the country to conduct research on the mummies which is preventing advanced foreign scientists from getting their hands on them and deriving conclusions that do not favor China’s stance.
Although the scientists cannot offer definite information to the Uighurs or to China’s government, their mummy findings add a bit of mystery for those individuals who are fascinated with history.

A Call to Arms

As Reported through the New York Times New Service, the recently inconspicuous Muqtada al-Sadr has thrust himself back into focus by calling for an armed resistance against any agreement allowing the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. This proclamation comes as the probable vote by the Iraqi Parliament on a new, U.S. S.O.F.A nears. The cleric al-Sadar makes the clear demand of removing all occupying forces and denying access and/or the formation of bases for any foreign forces. Though having maintained a low profile in recent years, and perhaps waning in his political influence, al-Sadr's militant proclamation cannot be quickly dismissed.

To review: al-Sadr, a prominent Shi'a cleric, rose to power in the chaotic political vacuum following the collapse of the Hussein regime. In 2004, al-Sadr initiated an armed uprising, targeting U.S. forces as well as anti-Shi'a elements which at the time were freely operating with impunity. Al-Sadr's militants were a significant source of instability and effectively operated against U.S. forces. In late 2005, al-Sadr called for a "cease-fire" wherein unrestricted, offensive operations by his militant groups were curtailed. Since that point, the frequency and intensity of sectarian violence has lessened (perhaps as a function of al-Sadr's directive). However, from 2005 intermittent sectarian and insurgent fighting has been attributable to the cleric. Yet, his religious/political influence is such that he has necessitated political engagement via the Iraqi government in the ongoing attempts to reduce violence and increase political stability.

Therefore, al-Sadr's recent proclamation for a resumed armed resistance against U.S. forces must not be ignored. Al-Sadr is still a significant religious figure, has displayed a willingness to utilize violence, and as a result is still dangerous. His political base is comprised mainly of young militant men, who have also displayed their willingness to fight at the behest of al-Sadr. Additionally, the "cease-fire" period, wherein al-Sadr has maintained a lower profile, has enabled the cleric to stockpile an unknown (yet undeniably significant) quantity of arms and materiél. Consequently, this has substantially increased his capabilities to maneuver politically, conduct operations, disrupt the tenuous progress witnessed in the country, and perhaps once again incite sectarian violence.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hersman Reading

It has come to my attention that the Hersman reading is incomplete. Don't worry about it; read as much of the excerpt as you can, and read the Wittkopf.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who's On First?

To keep the friendly debate on Russia going, I wish to respectfully disagree with anonymous with regards to power in Russia. Anonymous believes that fully recognizing Medvedev would increase his domestic image as a powerful president and would undermine Putin. Anonymous also made a historical comparison to post-Revolution Russia in 1917, when there were two power centers in Russia: the provisional government (run by Alexander Kerensky) and the Petrograd Soviet (controlled by Lenin). Anonymous believes that if we had thrown our weight behind Kerensky, we could have seriously eroded Lenin's influence.

While certainly a plausible counterfactual, I, as a fellow student of history, find the comparison to be seriously lacking. Comparing the power struggle in 1917 Russia to a struggle for power between Putin and Medvedev simply doesn't work. In 1917, Kerensky and Lenin had emerged from a country ravaged by both revolution and war and were both trying to consolidate their power. Today, however, Putin has already consolidated his power. He served as President for 8 years and is still the face of Russian politics. Putin was highly visible in both the August war in Georgia and in Russia's response to the financial crisis. I don't have an in with the siloviki in Russia nor am I an expert on Russia, but I haven't gotten the impression that Putin is going to ride off into the sunset anytime soon.

Furthermore, anonymous's assertion that the proposed constiutional change extending the Presidential term in Russia from four years to six years was to keep Putin from returning to power quickly is wrong in that, if passed, it will not affect Medvedev's current term but go into effect for the next President. The six-year term was recently approved by the lower house of the Russian parliament and is currently waiting to be approved by the upper house.

There seems to be no rational reason for Medvedev to extend the Russian Presidential term limit to six years less than one year into his own term. Perhaps he's merely paving the way for Putin to return to power. Although Putin has served the maximum of two consecutive terms, there is no constiutional barrier to running for a third non-consecutive term. Were Medvedev to suddenly vacate power call for another election, Russians could soon be chanting "12 more years!".

Response to the response...

I appreciate the fact that my last post on requiring ID for voting sparked some criticism. I realize this is a bit late, but I wanted to respond with some additional information that may be helpful for further understanding the details of this debate.

Delta Blue responded to my post by noting that most of the barriers I presented really boil down to voter apathy. While I agree that apathy is an issue within the voting population of this country, I do not agree that it is the only way to explain my comments. For further reference, please note this study presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Conference in September 2007. It looks at data compiled from the 2006 mid-term elections in California, New Mexico, and Washington. Specifically, the authors, Barreto, Nuño, and Sánchez, wanted to study how new requirements for voter ID would affect participation by minority voters, specifically Latino, Black, and Asian voters.

Data compiled for the study came as the states listed above were considering making changes to the way their citizens register and vote. All three states were planning to change voter identification requirements, and the authors wanted to look at how the new requirements would affect voter participation in the demographics listed above. The study found that race “impacts access to a driver’s license, as white voters are approximately 10% more likely to have this valid form of primary identification than non-whites. In addition to racial and ethnic minorities, foreign-born voters are also less likely to have a driver’s license. There also seems to be a socioeconomic bias associated with having a driver’s license, as those with higher educations and incomes are more likely to have this specific form of valid identification” (16). Requiring photo identification for voting excludes certain portions of the population, as the above evidence from the study demonstrates that non-white voters are empirically less likely to have photo identification compared to white voters. It also notes the socioeconomic bias, as wealthier voters are more likely to have a driver’s license.

Delta Blue also mentioned that multiple forms of ID are acceptable to prove one’s identity for the purpose of voting. The study explored the ability of voters to produce at least one additional form of identification besides a photo ID. “While Latinos and Blacks were not less likely to have a state driver’s license, Latinos, Blacks, Asians, and immigrants were all significantly less likely to have at least a driver’s license and one additional form of identification…Asians and Blacks were over 20% less likely to have two forms of identification, as compared to Whites, while Latinos were 13% less likely” (17). The authors go on to mention the difficulty in showing something as simple as a utility bill. If an individual does not own a home, that person may not receive utility bills, or if he or she does receive the bills, other members of the same household do not.

There are eight states that require photo ID in order to vote, and there are an additional sixteen that require some form of ID to vote, Kentucky being one of them. Why is it that less than half of the states in the US require ID because of fear of fraud? If this was a relevant fear, wouldn’t all states require some form of ID to vote?

The point I’m trying to make is that we purposely erect barriers to prevent people from voting. At one time voters were required to pay a poll tax to vote, at another voters had to prove they were literate. Now (in 24 states) we just require them to show some form of identification to vote. That may seem a simple request, especially to individuals like Delta Blue, who do not have any problems with providing the required ID. The problem is that we should find another way of helping people to fulfill the criteria we require. If a state requires a photo ID be shown to prove identity and reduce potential for fraud, then the state needs to provide photo IDs to all eligible voters free of charge (see fairvote.org). Or, we should just simplify the process and do away with identification requirements like the 26 other states that do not make this distinction. Until we get to the point where states do offer IDs for free, then they cannot require them as a prerequisite to vote. Otherwise we continue to shut people out of what should be their right as citizens of a democratic nation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mystery of the Missing Nuke

While this sounds like an installment of Encyclopedia Brown gone horribly wrong, recent reporting from the BBC suggests that in the late 1960's the US lost a nuke. Here's the story...

During the height of the Cold War, northern Greenland was of utmost strategic importance to the United States. If Russia was to launch an attack against the US, it would come from over the North Pole and thus over Greenland. The Americans installed an Air Force base in the small Greenlandish (that can't be right, can it?) village of Thule. This location allowed for monitoring of the skies for incoming missiles. B-52 bombers equipped with nukes flew constant missions around the base, prepared to fly to Moscow and strike in a moment's notice.

But one day one of those B-52s, strapped with four nuclear devices, experienced an equipment malfunction and crashed onto the ice below. The conventional explosives surrounding the nukes detonated without triggering the nukes themselves because the crew hadn't armed the bombs. With assistance from the Danes and Greenlanders, recovery missions came to a startling discovery- only three of the bombs could be accounted for. Conventional wisdom holds that when the plane crashed, one of the nukes, instead of fragmenting, lodged itself into the thick ice. Subsequent submarine missions turned up nothing.

From the article- William H Chambers, a former nuclear weapons designer at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory who once ran a team dealing with accidents, including the Thule crash. "There was disappointment in what you might call a failure to return all of the components," he told the BBC, explaining the logic behind the decision to abandon the search.
"It would be very difficult for anyone else to recover classified pieces if we couldn't find them."
The view was that no-one else would be able covertly to acquire the sensitive pieces and that the radioactive material would dissolve in such a large body of water, making it harmless.

Seemingly this has little relevance today, but it makes me wonder. How secure are the nuclear weapons of the world? States with nuclear weapons are the US, Russia, China, France, the UK, India, Pakistan and Israel. Looking at that list you have to deduce that Pakistan and possibly India are the worries. How safe are the warheads in Pakistan? That's a question of much debate and could be the subject of another post, but if the United States can have an accident and lose a nuke, how hard would it be for the Pakistani's to "misplace" one? A top priority of the Obama administration should be to secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

It's just a matter of time before we get here,though.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hey, you walk funny, you must be a terrorist...

One of the biggest obstacles in security surveillance has always been that the amount of collection far exceeds the amount of man power available for analysis. A camera may catch every move that happens in an airport but is the person watching that camera going to be able to go through all that videotape to pick out suspicious activity? Probably not. In response to this, technologies which can do some of the analysis for us are being developed. Much of this technology remains, for the moment, in laboratories. But Charles Cohen, the boss of Cybernet Systems, a firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is working for America’s Army Research Laboratory, says behaviour-recognition systems are getting good, and are already deployed at some security checkpoints.

Human gaits, for example, can provide a lot of information about people’s intentions. Correlating these movements with consequences, such as the throwing of a bomb, allows them to develop computer models that link posture and consequence reasonably reliably. The system can, for example, pick out a person in a crowd who is carrying a concealed package with the weight of a large explosives belt. According to Mr Morelli, the army plans to deploy the system at military checkpoints, on vehicles and at embassy perimeters.
Some intelligent surveillance systems are able to go beyond even this. Instead of merely learning what a threat looks like, they can learn the context in which behaviour is probably threatening. That people linger in places such as bus stops, for example, is normal. Loitering in a stairwell, however, is a rarer occurrence that may warrant examination by human security staff
As object- and motion-recognition technology improves, researchers are starting to focus on facial expressions and what they can reveal. The Human Factors Division of America’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for example, is running what it calls Project Hostile Intent. This boasts a system that scrutinises fleeting “micro-expressions”, easily missed by human eyes. Many flash for less than a tenth of a second and involve just a small portion of the face.
Terrorists are often trained to conceal emotions; micro-expressions, however, are largely involuntary. Even better, from the researchers’ point of view, conscious attempts to suppress facial expressions actually accentuate micro-expressions. Sharla Rausch, the director of the Human Factors Division, refers to this somewhat disturbingly as “micro-facial leakage”.
While all of this technology seems that it will create a safer environment in which it will be easier to spot terrorist in our midst, this raises a few questions about innocent civilians and their rights to be “awkward” at security checkpoints in public places like airports. For example, anyone who is nervous about flying or in a hurry to get through security because they are running late for a flight may seem anxious. Profiling is already an acceptable form of security screening in airports but with this new technology it seems that anyone acting in any way suspicious could be red flagged on a security tape. I’m a toe-walker, is this type of gait going to get me pulled out of line to be questioned by authorities? I also get very cold on planes, is the fact that I wear an oversized sweatshirt to fly even in august going to put me on the no-fly list?
A second concern is that expressions of emotion across cultures are different. An American expresses anxiety in a very different way from a citizen of India. Is the software going to be programmed to recognize cultural background and be able to adjust for those differences as well?
While I’m sure that authorities will have the final say, it seems that leaving the analysis to a computer could cut down on the leg work of having to sift through a plethora of surviellance but at what cost to the citizens it is trying to protect? The age old debate concerning security of civilians is how many of our civil liberties are we willing to concede so that order can be maintained. We already allow our bags to be searched, our shoes to be scanned, and our faces to be profiled. Will we now concede the rhythm of our gait as well as our expression of emotion in order to feel safe?

Tuesdays With the Taliban

The Washington Post reports that both President-Elect Obama and the top US/NATO commander in Iraq, General David McKiernan are at least receptive to the idea of negotiations with "reconcilable" elements of the Taliban. The Nir Rosen "embedded with the Taliban" article sheds some light on the pragmatic, less ideologically driven nature of some of the lower level Taliban fighters.

In my most recent policy memo for this class, I advised against such steps. My argument was that including the theocratic Taliban in Afghanistan's future in any way was contrary to the liberal values of the US and our NATO allies. I would add, of course, that the Taliban is directly responsible for the deaths of US soldiers and, through its Al Qaeda client, the deaths of 3,000 innocent US civilians on 9/11.

However, elements of the tribal groups involved in the Awakening in Iraq were also involved in the insurgency that had killed a substantial number of American soldiers, and that strategy was carried out with relatively little controversy. The fact that the negotiations would theoretically pit the practical lower level elements of the Taliban against the hardline upper reaches of the leadership structure, including Mullah Omar (this is NOT the Omar whom my name is an homage to), also changes the equation to a certain extent. Negotiations, then, might provide a way to divide and conquer the Taliban.

Furthermore, it's important to remember that Al Qaeda and bin Laden were the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and therefore should be the ultimate target of our wrath. If talks with Taliban underlings are able to pry Al Qaeda away from its patrons and further expose it, then they may prove to be desirable.

Ultimately, I remain skeptical of any sort of deal with the Taliban because it is simply a horribly odious organization. Given, however, the increasingly dire situation in Afghanistan and the region, drastic steps such as these may begin to seem more practical.