Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Threat to U.S. security could be right under our nose

     If anyone thought they had heard the last of Hugo Chavez, they are no doubt incorrect.  Chavez is making waves yet again in international security waters.  Upon his recent trips to China and his new BFF, Russia, Chavez has signed a billion dollar loan to purchase $4.4 billion worth of weapons from Russia.  Some analysts view this as a message to the U.S. that Russia has a "welcome mat" in Latin America, making Russia an even bigger threat to U.S. security.  However, others, such as Admiral Michael Mullens, dismiss the actions, reporting that they have little effect to U.S. security at this time.  So who is correct?  I propose taking a closer look at the events ensuing in Latin America, leading to the realization that Chavez is only one part of a critical equation that may threaten U.S. security.

     As stated above, Chavez has had increased relations with both China and Russia, and has purchased Russian weapons.  However, in addition, he has traveled to Iran to no doubt try to strengthen relations with a prominent U.S. security threat.  While Chavez is working on Venezuela's relations with Iran, Bolivia is doing the same.

          Bolivian President Morales has traveled to Tehran to meet with Iranian President Ahmadinejad on several occasions, only make their alliance stronger.  Unlike Chavez's talks with Iran, Morales' talks have had significant consequences.  Most importantly perhaps, is the transfer of Bolivia's only Middle Eastern embassy to Tehran from Cairo.  In addition, the talks have led to an investment of over one billion dollars to Bolivia's natural gas industry from Iran.  What kind of implications does this warrant for the U.S.?

     If relations with Latin American countries were perfect, these talks between Iran, Venezuela, and Bolivia would already be unnerving - no one wants their enemy making friends with the backyard neighbors.  However, U.S. relations with Latin American countries have historically been on shaky ground.  Currently, the only strong alliances the U.S. has in Latin America are with Mexico, Costa Rica, and Colombia due to the five billion dollar per year aid the country receives to combat the illegal narcotic trade.  Other moderate alliances, if you choose to refer to them as so, are with moderate left wing countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.  However, there are many far left wing countries that the U.S. does not have great relations with.  These include Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador.  The numbers are not looking good for the U.S.

     With numbers working against the U.S., Iran, Russia, and China's involvement in Latin America could have severe implications for U.S. security.  Although Russia and China have had previous dealings in Latin America, Iran's involvement is fairly new.  With tensions ever increasing with Iran, and Iran's relations with Latin American countries only strengthening, the U.S. could be treading into very dangerous waters.

Beatriz Lecumberri, "Chavez Defies U.S. by Dealing with Russia, China," Defense News.

China's Milk Scandal Covered Up by Olympic Image Imperative

It would seem that the decision of the IOC to hold the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, what was construed as a nod from the international community as recognition of China’s economic progress, continues to have a negative fall-out effect. Recently, the Sanlu Group, one of China’s biggest producers of milk powder, has had to recall up to 700 tonnes of powder tainted with a chemical melamine. To date it has made 6,000 infants ill and as of September 18th, 2008, four are dead. The blame has been put on the middle men who collect milk from dairy farmers. These workers add water to the milk to increase its volume and then to mask it, they add melamine, a chemical used to make plastic, to boost the protein content and fool inspectors. Melamine has already made its debut in the U.S. through Chinese imported pet food tainted with the chemical.
The problem with this recall is that it is beginning to look like it should have happened WAY sooner. The government of Gansu province in China’s west says it told the Ministry of Health on July 16th about an unusual upsurge of kidney stones among infants who had all drunk the same brand of milk. It was not until September 1st that the ministry says its experts tentatively concluded that the powder had caused the sickness. Still, nothing appeared to happen.
Prodding from the government of New Zealand may have been what eventually goaded the Chinese authorities into action. On September 8th it told them what it had learnt from Fonterra, a New Zealand dairy company that owns 43% of Sanlu. Fonterra says it was told by Sanlu of a problem with the powder on August 2nd, six days before the games. Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister, said Fonterra had tried “for weeks” to persuade local officials to allow a public recall. Instead, in an unpublicised recall, powder was withdrawn from shops. It was not until Sept. 18th that the large scale 700 tonne recall was conducted.
Speculators have pointed to the Olympics as a reason that the milk was not recalled sooner. Officials did not want the games to be marred by a food scandal. However, if the olympic games were a chance for China to build up its soft power by showing the world what a great nation it has become, showcasing its economic and social progress to the world, I would call it a chance that was squandered. With reports of security crackdowns, revocation of an already limited freedom of the press, businesses forced to close in order to make room for construction of water cubes, and etiquette books passed out to citizens with instructions on how to dress and cheer when in attendance at sporting events would hardly constitute the ideas contained in the Olympic movement. And now it seems that even the health of Chinese citizens was not as important as the image of the Chinese nation during the games. From a national security standpoint, it raises questions of the quality of and truth behind a nations projected national image. If we cannot trust the quality of the milk powder coming off the shelves, can you trust the quality of the national image being projected over the airwaves?

Our Own Worst Enemy

The goal of many groups who engage in terrorism against the US and the west is to unsettle us, to shake up our systems, to prove that we are weak, to take us down through attacking our way of life. Not long after 9/11, which had a major impact on many companies which had offices in the World Trade Center, the stock market fell 500 points in one day. There was a slight downturn in the economy as well, but it did recover, and for a while after 9/11 it seemed that the attacks had done exactly what the terrorists didn't want: they had brought us together as a country.

Yesterday the stock market fell over 700 points in a single day. The reason? Terrorism? War? An attack on the computer banking system? No, it was due to the regulations (or lack thereof) related to the financial industry in this country. It was due to regulations being repealed to make it easier to blur the lines between insurance, corporate and commercial dealings. It was due to an idealistic view that everyone should be on the property latter, regardless if they would be able to pay the money back or not. It was due to overwhelming greed on the part of some financial higher-ups who decided to mask the risk of these investments thinking that they could get away with it, not realizing that many people were doing the same thing and that if everyone was found out and things fell apart there wouldn't be anything there to catch them. Who is responsible for all this?

Some will argue the fault lies with the Bush administration and its economic policies. Some will argue the Clinton administration and its push for more sub-prime loans. (The Glass-Steagall Act which regulated speculation was repealed in 1999). Some claim it goes all the way back to the Carter administration which is responsible for the creation of these lower income loans which are now clogging up the financial system. But there is one thing in common among all these administrations or possible reason: They are all American. This isn't Al Qaeda getting involved and messing up our investments, this is US. We are the cause of all this. And some my argue that the repercussions from this financial crisis will last longer and hurt more people than the attacks on 9/11. Yes, the terror attacks affected this country's psyche, but this one will hit people's pocketbooks and truly affect they way Americans live their lives. After the attacks on 9/11, many people declared that they wouldn't let the terrorists scare them into changing how they lived. But just look at stock prices to see how people are reacting to this crisis. People are changing the way they live.

If things don't improve, some people may lose their jobs, and then more, and then more. Right now there isn't a huge impact to the typical American, but it could happen. And we did this to ourselves. Many in government can admit that this current crisis has been caused because of American policy, both governmental and within the financial industry. But when asked to actually name a cause, Democrats say it's the Republicans fault and Republicans point the finger at Democrats.

Yesterday the House voted on the bill that would allow the 158 gazillion dollar bailout of the financial industry, and it was voted down to many people's shock. President Bush was very unhappy and the candidates responded as well. But the blame game started immediately; it's "their" fault, not ours. Speaker Pelosi was so certain that she had the votes she needed for the bill to pass that she decided, at the most inopportune time, to deliver a speech filled with partisan jabs. At a moment in time when nothing was needed more in this country than a bipartisan House to act together to deal with the crisis, her words actually were decisive and led some republicans to vote no on the bill. Then finger-pointing was rampant once again, with Republicans blaming the Democrats for allowing politics to be involved in the crisis, and Democrats using the same blame in regards to the Republicans. At this point, as the Wall Street Journal has put it, Congress is really living up to its 10% approval rating. Even Bush, who many love to criticize, has a higher approval rating than that.

Terrorists who act against the west want to see it fall. It appears that they really don't have to do anything to help us topple because we are more than willing to implode all by ourselves.

Monday, September 29, 2008

AfriCom's Ulterior Motives?

The Pentagon has launched AfriCom today, its first coordination of its counterterrorism, training and humanitarian programs on the continent.

The move has not been so well received, though. Several countries have refused to host the command center and many others just view it as a further move in US imperialism. Furthermore, domestic and foreign agencies worry that Africa is more or less the new frontier on the war on terror and that we will see a policy shift from democratization to uprooting groups involved with Al-Qaeda and other terror organizations.

The article continues on to discuss the strategic importance of Africa for US oil imports (the article fails, though, to mention the diamond imports that give our hip-hop artists their bling) noting that some 17% of crude imports come from the continent. Also noted is the competition with China over influences and resources. The Pentagon, however, says oil and China are not the reasons for their presence.

So what it all boils down to is this: the last 5 years of US "influence" in the world has our African friends rightly concerned. The thought of having a US military presence on the continent is quite unsettling to some, regardless of the motives. I would assume that the top US priority is rooting out terrorism, especially in the Horn. But when have we stretched ourselves too far?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seriously, a Russian Missile Shield?

A recent article in The Times declared that Russian president Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia is going to build a new space and missile defense shield as part of a plan to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. In addition to his desire to build this missile shield, the Russian president put his country’s armed forces on permanent combat alert status. This follows a series of events in the previous week where Russia sent a battle cruiser and submarine to participate in joint exercises with Venezuela, agreed to sell nuclear technology to Venezuela, and announced that it is going to build closer ties to Latin American countries. This should get some people’s attention in Washington, but should hardly cause anyone to think that Russia is going to challenge the U.S. anytime soon.

The question that must be asked is how much of a threat do Russia’s actions pose to the United States? Are they going to challenge the U.S. for supremacy in the Caribbean or just be a thorn in our side that won’t go away?

As the world’s sole superpower, the United States has done as it sees fit in the world for the past 15-20 years while Russia struggled after the fall of the Soviet Union and only began to recover once oil prices started to rise after 2001. As we saw when Russia invaded Georgia, they are still using tactics from the Cold War era involving large formations of men and tanks that cannot be moved swiftly in addition to using outdated T-72 tanks. If one reads the Times article further it states that Medvedev’s plans are not going to fully implemented until 2020. By that time, the U.S. will have plenty of F-22 and F-35 planes in addition to new aircraft carriers and DDG-51, and maybe a few DDG-1000, destroyers to blow anything off the face of the earth that Russia throws at it.

Russia is not much of a threat to the United States. Most likely they are playing all of this up for their domestic constituency so that they will feel good about themselves and take pride in their country again. Putin pulled Russia out of the turmoil of the 1990s and reasserted his country on the world stage and Mevdedev is merely continuing Putin’s policies of making Russia seem as strong as possible for the citizens of the motherland. However, if any opportunities present themselves for Russia to stick it to the U.S., like we did to them by placing a missile defense system in Poland, then they will do it. The U.S. should take notice of Russia’s actions but should hardly lose any sleep over it. It will take much longer than 10 years for Russia to truly challenge the United States militarily. Taking action against Venezuela if they were to begin a civilian nuclear program is a whole different discussion for another day.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

In a video released earlier this month, Al Qaeda's Number 2 (who has been alive for some time, unlike Al Qaeda's Number 3, who is constantly dying) totally dissed Iran for "occupying Iraq" and recognizing the "puppet regimes" of the "Western Crusaders" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you're someone who stays somewhat abreast of Middle Eastern culture & news then this is probably no big surprise to you. However, I think this would probably be quite surprising to many Americans, who see "the terrorists" as some sort of monolithic bloc.

The point here, which is probably obvious to Patterson School students, is that not all groups and states in the Middle East are the same, and that not all groups and states who are antagonistic toward the US are the same. The most obvious case in point is the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Another more recent example would be Iran's early support for the US led invasion of Afghanistan to depose the virulently anti-Shi'ite Taliban government.

While these distinctions between groups may seem elementary to IR graduate students, it doesn't seem to be so clear to foreign-policy-guru presidential candidates:

Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back".
-Washington Post (March 2008)

In another instance, McCain referred to Al Qaeda as a "sect of Shi'ites".

Admittedly, McCain isn't the worst of the '08 presidential contenders in this regard. That honor goes to Mittens Romney (no, not this one), who frequently conflated groups as disparate as Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Russia and Latin America

Not only is the Peter the Great and company on the way to Venezuela (hopefully, as long it doesn't break down), but Russia is continuing its military aid to Venezuela in the form of another arms contract. The newest contract with Venezuela will provide $1 billion dollars worth of arms--mostly APCs, anti-aircraft systems, and combat aircraft. There have been 12 arms contracts between the two countries since 2005 in the amount of almost $4.5 billion that provided fighter jets, tanks, and assault rifles.

Russia is also coming to the military aid of Nicaragua by helping to replenish its arsenal that was largely created by the Soviet Union in the midst of the Cold War. The arsenal once contained 2,000 missiles but half have been destroyed already. The US has put pressure on Nicaragua to continue dismantling its arsenal by promising aid for health care, claiming that the missiles could fall into the hands of terrorists. The arsenal was mostly furnished by the Soviets in the 1980s and is in disrepair because of lack of investment in equipment updates. The Soviets claim that they don't want to increase the arsenal, just fix the problems in the one that Nicaragua already has.

The re-election of Ortega in 2006 (who previously served as president from 1985-1990 and was backed by the USSR in the civil war against the Contra rebels backed by the US) has helped to strengthen ties with Russia. Nicaragua was also the only other country besides Russia to recognize the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia--a clear sign that they want to get on Russia's good side.

So what does this mean for the US? We of course aren't on the best of terms with Chavez and Nicaragua isn't our favorite south of the border neighbor either. We do maintain good relations with the majority of countries in Latin America and these two countries (along with Cuba of course) are a splinter in the side of the US. Yeah it kinda sucks that Russia is sending a decrepit missile cruiser to what we have referred to in the past as our backyard, and it sucks that Russia is taking such an interest in Latin America. But what can we do about it? At this point, I think we have our hands full with Iraq/Afghanistan and should worry about "rogue nations" that are capable of doing a great deal more damage that Nicaragua or Venezuela could. A lot has been said about Russia wanting to assert its own power to prove that it is a force to be reckoned with, and I think that this is a prime example of proving that it has gained back some of the power it lost since the Cold War by returning to its old stomping grounds in Nicaragua and supporting a friendly government in Venezuela. As long as these adventures are only "exercises" and aren't greatly increasing military capabilities to the point that it could be dangerous to the US, then I think that its in our best interest to monitor the situation but not to threaten or pressure with rhetoric because frankly, its not the biggest issue we have to deal with right now.

OK, this is freaky and implies all sorts of things.

Apparently, pirates in Somalia have captured an Iranian ship, but now all of those pirates are coming down horribly sick and dying.

The overall story is rather confusing, and I had a hard time with the article, but the basic gist was:

1) The MV Iran Deyanat reached the Gulf of Aden August 20, with an expected arrival in the Suez Canal on August 27th. The trip should only take the ship 4 or 5 days, however. According to the manifest, it was carrying iron ore and "industrial products", bound for the Netherlands.

2) Sometime shortly after entering the Gulf of Aden (definitely before August 23rd), the ship was hijacked by pirates around Puntland in northern Somalia.

3) While negotiations for a $2 million dollar ransom were being worked out, the pirates asked for the local "authorities" (the people who run Puntland) to come investigate the ship. While no one recognizes Puntland, it is a self-governing autonomous area, where law and order are pretty well established on land. This is typical, as the pirates seek some legitimacy by claiming to stop illegal fishing and weapons sales. The pirates claimed to find weapons bound for Eritrea there.

4) Here comes the weird part: On September 4th, when the authorities got there, they found that many of the pirates had weird burns, loss of hair, and other complications. Many of them had already died.

5) On the 6th, an agreement was reached for the $2 million, but never followed through. On the 10th, the US levied sanctions against the Iranian shipping company, and negotiations were broken off. On the 12th, the US offered $7 million for the ship.

6) Currently, there are French and US Naval vessels off the coast, to inspect the ship as soon as it leaves Somali waters. They can do so under the suspicion that it is carrying weapons to Eritrea. The Russians are sending ships down there now as well. It's been suggested that Iranian subs (Iran has subs??) might try to take the ship down before anyone can get to it.

My overall question: What the hell could be causing the medical complications? The article says that chemical weapons are unlikely (but rumored), but what else could it be? Some kind of radiation? There's nothing nuclear or radioactive mentioned in the manifest either. Random outburst of an epidemic of some kind that causes burns??

And where would it have picked up such an odd cargo? If it picked up either radioactive material or chemical weapons in China, and is trying to smuggle them into Iran, why would it be going into the Gulf of Aden/Suez, which has a rather large peninsula between it and Iran. (And any means of smuggling from there to Iran would likely go through Iraq, which would not be a good idea.)

The idea that they were smuggling weapons to Eritrea makes more sense, because Eritrea is on the way. But...chemical weapons?

I'm honestly looking for explanations here. (And, on top of that, the question of the $7 million ransom the US offered, $5 million more than the Iranians agreed to.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where's the water?

This is in response to the water post of a few days ago...

Michael Klare talks about the tendency toward resource wars in the future that apply to this very problem. As nations continue to grow and develop, gaining higher levels of income and living standards, they demand more and more water. Klare suggests that most nations prefer to rely on their own supplies of strategic resources whenever possible, but this will become more impossible with global water supplies because there is a finite amount of water in some instances. Many nations around the world rely on fresh water flows through major rivers. This is a problem because a river may flow through several countries before it gets to the nation in question. Klare notes that the Nile flows through nine countries, meaning that one country may run the risk of losing its water if another cuts off the supply.

Water becomes even more scarce when rich(er) country governments divert water to irrigate farmland for their constituents with little regard for displaced and therefore unheard populations. For example, Israel's move to divert water from land farmed by Palestinians to irrigate land farmed by Israeli settlers. The Palestinians who are dependent upon agriculture for their meager livelihoods do not have a voice in the decision-making process and therefore do not have the ability to protest these moves. A recent article from Reuters notes the disparity of lush and thriving Israeli crops located next to dry and brown Palestinian crops.

When populations are divided from vital resources, such as water, they begin to seek ways to gain access to vital resources. The end result is perhaps violence and revolution. The potential problem for the Israelis is that continued Palestinian oppression will build more of a case for the Palestinian population to revolt. Klare's resource wars may come to fruition if it becomes a question of whether to starve or fight for water. The rich countries will not really have a problem gaining access to water reserves; they have enough money to buy up available reserves at almost any price. The issue is for the poor and desperate populations of the world that will not have the money to afford high water prices. These groups will either face starvation or the incitement of violence.

In the coming years as environmental problems worsen around the globe, due to pollution and global warming among others, the United States may find that its national interest will be to protect and maintain vital resources for poverty stricken and resource vulnerable populations. We talked about the prominence of the need to recognize human dignity as part of a strategy for national security, perhaps the US would be best served by a policy that enables oppressed peoples to gain access to vital resources such as water.

For further reading, try this article from the BBC from May of 2007.

It's Just a List, Get Over It

Week after week, we hear either Iran or North Korea complain because they are on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List. In some cases, they tend to complain about its more fashionable, 21st Century name, "The Axis of Evil". Seriously, get over it. Who cares about a list? What does it really mean? Didn't we learn as kids that "sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us"? Surely, we can't be so ignorant as to think that North Korea would really dismantle its nuclear program completely just to be removed from this list. Nor should we believe that Iran really gives a hoot about the Axis of Evil (they know they are evil, and the truth hurts). They don't, and it certainly shouldn't be considered a negotiating piece if Iran ever earns a spot at the bargaining table.

Sure, it would be easy for me, an American, to say I could give a rat's rear about this list. But actually, I do care about the list. It makes perfect sense. Why shouldn't we label those governments that have the capacity and irrationality to harm or assist in the endangerment of others through development, use, or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? It seems like our duty. In the end, those nations on the list should hate being on it, as it was designed to hurt them, and in fact, to embarrass them into different politics. Our allies should embrace the list and enforce the sanctions that go along with its repercussions.

As silly as it is that we actually care what Iran and North Korea think about this list, it is even more hysterical to listen to Americans that oppose the list. Many of them blame the Bush administration for the list, or for upholding its importance. Some would say that "it is a laminated paper on the desk in the oval office that can be erased and added to as if it were nothing."

Seriously, this list has existed since 1979. It is maintained not by the President, but by the US State Department. ( http://www.state.gov/s/ct/c14151.htm )

So oft are people ignorant on these things that they often try to blame one administration, and in fact, they target the entirely wrong political party. Syria was the first state added to the "list" in 1979. Therefore, Jimmy Carter (shhh, don't tell anyone, but he was a Democrat, not a Republican or a neoconservative - how crazy?!?) passed his list through four Presidents to its current holder, W. The states on the list include Cuba, Syria, Iran, Sudan, and North Korea.

If you're interested in their rap sheets, link here (http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2005/64337.htm ).

As the list stands, the last nation added was the Sudan. It was added in 1993 (hold on to your seat) by Bill Clinton.

In 2002, a speechwriter in the White House used the term Axis of Evil, and the president officially coined it. I was passed out and unconscious on 9/11/2001, but one of my friends said something horrible, even evil, happened that day. So, really, I have no idea where that name came from, or why we can't call it how we see it.

Let's just get the facts on the table before we start bashing people, and let's get off the list, its just name-calling...who does that hurt? After all, the majority of people reading this are on the Great Satan's rolls.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Moving North we have.....more trouble

The Russian invasion of Georgia over the conflict in South Ossetia raised many questions about Russia's stance on break-away regions. They had widely condemned the West for its support of Kosovar independence, yet seemed to support it for South Ossetians. This precedent may be tested again as tensions rise just north of the border with Georgia in the autonomous region of Ingushetia.

The Ingush became part of the Russian empire in 1810 and were part of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Socialist Repbublic from 1936-1944 when they were disbanded and deported to Central Asia. Upon return at the dissolution of the Soviet Union, they found that their neighbors, namely N. Ossetians, had taken their land. Lawlessness has prevailed their for 15 years, and their is a rising tide of Islamic extremism (several of the Beslan terrorists were from Ingushetia). Many want to be independent of Russia.

On September 12th, the director of the Ingush Motor Vehicle department was assassinated. The problem is he was the president of Ingushetia's first cousin. At the funeral there were many protestors screaming for blood-revenge and invoking the name of Allah. President Murat Zyazikov is pro-Kremlin and a personal ally of Premier Putin. His stance has angered many of the Ingush people and there has been a budding opposition there in recent times. Accidentally, so the Russian police claim, the owner of opposition website ingushetia.ru was shot four times and dumped out of a vehicle after being detained on August 31st(Oops!). On July 3 Russian police officers and a senior intelligence official were killed by separatists. Or organized crime enemies. One can never be sure.

Moscow has criticised Zyazikov for his weak response to the rising unrest. Opposition groups are calling for his resignation or they will declare their independence,"just like Abkhazia and South Ossetia". There have been adequate provocations on both sides. The 'accidental' killing of a popular opposition leader ignited the base seeking independence. The murder of the president's cousin, though not clear who's responsible, is being used to call for oppression of the opposition. This, in turn, is further convincing the minority of their need for a collective front of resistance. These events are incredibly similar to the summer unrest in South Ossetia - which was celebrated with a war.

So, as drones are continued to be shot down and rhetoric exchanged over Georgia, a fresh crisis is awaiting on the way back to Moscow.

The Cost of a War on Terror

It’s election time again; a time when politicians somehow manage to make fashion statements and political buzzwords turn into gold with a little help of the media. With the upcoming presidential debates, it is guaranteed that the American people will encounter new phrases and promises, along with some old matters of business. For example, the War on Terror will inevitably spark a heated debate between the two candidates. Undoubtedly, one side will argue for success, while another will proclaim that withdrawal of troops is necessary. Perhaps it is not as simple as choosing sides, since both parties will ultimately have to deal with the war regardless of who wields the executive power. Both plans will take time, energy and money. Blame has already been awarded and mistakes have already been made…but the effects of the fight against terrorism will permeate throughout the American society for decades to come. Regardless of who wins or who loses the presidency of the USA, future Americans will have to deal with the aftermath of the War on Terror. How much will this war cost us?

It is not even necessary to discuss home many lives of American soldiers have been lost, not to mention the civilian causualties of Iraq and Afghanistan...we know that the numbers are outrageous. Also, due to the exponential figures, it is unnecessary to mention the cost of the War on Terror in terms of dollars and cents. What often goes without mention, however, is what the War on Terror has cost the United States in terms of opportunities. Focusing so much time and energy on the fight against terrorism has, for years, distracted the United States from progress in other areas, such as Asia, Russia and Latin America. As one reporter in TIME magazine explained, “The longer the U.S bases its foreign policy around the single-minded pursuit of Islamic terrorist, the less influence it is likely to have.” In order to maintain persuasive authority in a nonpolar world, the United States will need to realize that the War on Terror is not the only issue on the foreign policy agenda.
The War on Terror has also helped to mar the image of the United States in the eyes of the world. Through the Bush Administration’s use of “cowboy diplomacy,” the international realm has come to view the United States as a country that is willing to “go-it-alone.” This image can be very damning to a country that considers itself as an international role model of nation building and democracy. Living in an era of globalization, now is not the time to convince allies that we are no longer in need of their help.
It is easy to see that the War on Terror has been extremely expensive in terms of loss of lives, money, opportunities, and reputation. However, one very insidious cost is the forfeit of several civil liberties under the Patriot Act. Giving “sweeping powers of surveillance” to the government leaves civilians arguably more vulnerable than they were in a *gasp* pre-9/11 world. How much should citizens/governments give up in order to be secure? Where do we draw the line? Protecting ourselves from terrorism is a necessity, but when we allow terrorists to instill so much fear and force us to expend so many resources, don't they ultimately win in the end?

Security and Water

No country can be secure if it lacks the things necessary to keep its population alive. This is why food security has become an issue. It's also why more attention should probably be paid to the water scarcity issues that have come up in recent years.

According to the Economist, water scarcity is now a bigger problem than food scarcity. The article here focuses on the water problems in much of the rest of the world, but even the US is having unprecedented problems.

Last year, the US state of Georgia almost ran out of drinking water, and got into a border dispute with Tennessee in order to get the rights to a river in the area. Every year, western mayors spend a large chunk of their time and resources trying to come up with new ways of getting water for their constituents. At the same time, the US is paying for the water for farms in the desert, farms that then proceed to use the least efficient irrigation procedures possible, because they're not the ones paying for the water.

If we cannot get it right, despite our relative abundance of water, what will happen in the poorer countries that are so badly hit? Many theorists expect "water wars" in the near future. The areas with physcial scarcity are all of the danger zones that we spend so much time worrying about for other reasons. It seems that it would be smart to start investing in ways to reduce water use now, so that the booming populations will have access to enough water later. If Georgia and Tennessee can start feuding now over water access, what is likely to happen when two unstable autocratic states (in a world of anarchy, no less) start arguing?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Terrorism, Security and Justice

On September 8, 2008, three men were convicted of conspiracy to murder in a high profile trial in London. The defendants in question, eight in total, were accused of planning the plot to blow up a number of trans-Atlantic flights with bottles of combustible liquids. This plot ushered in the era of restriction on liquids on airplanes and, at the time, was hailed as a successfully coordinated effort between British and US officials to capture terrorists before they could strike.
Despite the conviction, many officials in Britain were disappointed with the outcome of the trial. The defendants were not convicted of the most serious charge- conspiracy to blow up passenger jets over the Atlantic. Although British officials publicly praised the conviction of the men on the lesser charges, some security officials complained that US pressure to arrest the defendants prevented them from gathering compelling evidence that would have resulted in convictions of all the charges. American officials argued that quick action prevented the men from carrying out the attacks and saved hundreds of lives.

This trial brings up an interesting debate in the realm of national security and terrorism- are those who engage in terrorism best dealt with through military and/or intelligence actions, or through law enforcement and civilian courts?

The debate in the US has taken on a different characterization recently with the Supreme Court ruling on whether military trial procedures in Guantanamo were constitutional. Yet, the US also has a history of using civilian courts to convict terrorists, as with both the conviction of Ramzi Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and the conviction of “homegrown” terrorists like Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Perhaps deciding how to punish and stop terrorists depends on the type of threat and the identity of the “terrorists” in question. In Britain, most of the men on trial were residents or citizens of the UK, though of immigrant roots. They carried out their preparations on British soil. This has a number of similarities to the case of Timothy McVeigh. Contrast that to the inmates in Guantanamo who were captured in Afghanistan during a military action and treated as enemy combatants. Should country of residence and citizenship be the dividing line between those who will be tried in civilian court and those who are sought and punished by other means?

It remains to be seen which method will be most effective in fighting terrorism. Are there differences between “homegrown” terrorists and those who plot the attacks thousands of miles away from their targets? Is military and/or covert action a necessity with some of these terrorists, or can the civilian law enforcement and judicial system bring them to justice? How can evidence be gathered and still be admitted in civilian court if intellegence is used to gather the information? Do issues of national security demand a higher level of secrecy, even in terrorism trials? And Finally, which method may be most useful to deterring terrorists before they commit their acts? Both methods are currently being pursued and perhps in time it will become clearer which may be a more effect means of keeping people safe from terrorist acts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yankee Go Home Pt. 2: Electric Boogaloo

This post builds somewhat upon the post from last week on the joint Venezuelan/Russian naval exercise and some of the subsequent comments. I didn't bring this topic up in class today because I wanted to save it for the blog, so here goes.

A domestic political crisis in Bolivia seems to be exacerbating already rising tensions between the United States and several Latin American nations. The series of events that has led to the expulsion of ambassadors in both the northern and southern hemispheres began with a political squabble in the landlocked country.

Richer areas of Bolivia chafed at populist President Evo Morales' plans to redistribute oil wealth from their areas to poorer areas of the country and to establish a separate legal structure for Bolivia's indigenous majority (Morales is the first Bolivian president of indigenous descent). Opposition to these plans has evolved into open rebellion and clashes between the president's supporters and opponents had left 30 dead as of this past weekend.

The soft-spoken Morales accused the US of providing support for the anti-government forces and subsequently expelled Ambassador Phillip S. Goldberg (a career ambassador, DIP 777 students). Bombastic Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Morales ally, expelled the US ambassador in Caracas in a show of solidarity with La Paz. Chavez also suggested that the US has taken steps to remove him from power as well (which it seems probably happened at least once with the 2002 coup attempt). The US has responded with the expulsion of both the Bolivian and Venezuelan envoys in Washington.

Leaders of Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador (and probably Uruguay and Peru, soon), and even staunchly pro-American Colombia have also expressed their solidarity with Morales in this affair.

Morales' list of complaints against the US include:
  • meetings between Goldberg and anti-Morales governors on the eve of the rebellion
  • a military attache at the US embassy having a relative smuggle a large quantity of .45 caliber ammunition into the country
  • the revelation by an American Fulbright Scholar that an embassy official was attempting to get him/her as well as Peace Corps volunteers involved in intelligence gathering in Bolivia
  • condescending behavior toward the Bolivian government by Goldberg
  • Goldberg's posing for a photo with a Colombian paramilitary operative
All of this is occurring against a backdrop of growing leftist/populist, sometimes anti-American, sentiment in Latin America and the election of left-leaning leaders in many countries in the region, most recently in Paraguay. This sentiment is also evidenced by some of the events we discussed in class such as the Russian/Venezuelan naval exercises and Nicaraguan recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Speaking of President Morales, this Daily Show interview of him was really odd...

Climate Change a Threat to National Security?

Traditionally the United States becomes active on a global scale when its crucial interests are at stake somewhere, no matter how remote the setting.  Could climate change be one of those issues that has a direct impact on U.S. interests?  Does it really threaten U.S. citizens?

According to an Economist article entitled "Adapt Or Die," the public is coming to terms with the fact that global climate change cannot be reversed or ameliorated, but that it can start planning adaptation to a changing global climate.  This July, the Senate reportedly set aside $20 million for "international adaptation efforts."  While this sum and legislation is more of symbolic nature than an actual promising approach to the problem, it does show that mindsets are evolving towards coping with the problem and not trying to solve it.  This past summer, the UN also dealt with the details of the first carbon tax for global adaptation. 

Adaptation efforts derive from the realization that climate change cannot be stopped and that it hits the poorest of the poor.  In the future, we can expect an increase in extreme weather (storms, drought, floods), rising temperatures and a rising sea level.  This has a disproportionate impact on the poorest people on this earth and those in island states, about 1 billion in 100 countries, according to the article.  It impacts what these people depend on the most: agriculture, fishing and tropical forests.  Many poor nations see climate change as a problem of the wealthy nations that cause it, but nevertheless, they have to deal with its direct impact.  They have to cope with a lack of money for reconstruction efforts and dependence on help for food and medical treatment of infectious diseases.

China, Brazil and India lead negotiations on climate change for the developing countries, but they have very different interests from the poorest developing nations because they are big polluters themselves.  The Kyoto Protocol famously rewards industrial nations that cut their emissions, but there is no reward or incentive for the very poor, such as for good management of tropical forests.

Now this is all good, but the average American still seems skeptical about the direct impact of climate change on his life, except for maybe during hurricane season, which has been around for some time.  Well, if droughts or floods cause civil strife and turmoil in developing nations and threaten state stability, this can cause anger with the billion poor and give incentive for hostile actions against industrial nations.  This can affect U.S. citizens at home, influence U.S. military operations and heighten overall global tensions.  A study conducted by a military panel in 2007 on 
"National Security and the Threat of Climate Change," states that climate change "acts as a threat multiplier in already fragile regions of the world, creating the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism." It points out that climate change can lead to an increased risk of mass migration, an increase in border tensions, conflicts over resources, and a possible increased expectation for direct U.S. military involvement.  Thus, it will impact U.S. national security.

While it is too late to stop climate change, the U.S. should improve its effort to seriously try to adapt to the new global and national circumstances and to plan ahead in order to prevent foreseeable escalations in the future and to improve its national security.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

EU Defense and The New World Order

An article in The Economist titled <“A Worrying New World Order”> poses the undeterminable question as to what position the European Union will obtain when a new world order emerges. No matter what the new world order has in store, it would be beneficial for the European Union to continue progress of the principle of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defense Policy <(ESDP)>, a collective security principle and body within the EU, in order to enhance its influential role in the new world order. After the re-emergence of Russia during the Georgia-Russia conflict over the past few weeks this question has been heavily discussed across Europe. Some would argue that a new world order already exists and from that stems the decline of the United States as a hegemony. The article suggest that “A previous generation of EU leaders, such as Jacques Chirac or Gerhard Schroder, dreamt of a multi-polar world, in which several powers would wield clout.” However, this multi-polar system is not a certain outcome and one source suggests that “this is a neo-polar world, in which old alliances and rivalries are bumping up against each other in new ways.” Although this notion has little evidence to back it, the “neo-polar world” is identified more by what it is not.

The European Union has certainly evolved since the establishment of the European Steel and Coal Community in 1951. It has extended its influence across the continent by lowering trade barriers amongst members in order to create a common market, implementing a common currency for most of the members, and by acquiring more members which currently encompasses 27 countries. Overall, the EU has had tremendous success in uniting Europe, and in promoting a peaceful existence amongst members; however, there are modern-day challenges that inevitably face the EU and the institution will have to develop collective strategies to deal with them.

The national security challenges range on a spectrum from international terrorism to drug and human trafficking, issues that are essentially on the entire global west agenda. The EU has attempted to devise a common defense strategy encompassing decisive diplomacy and a military, but so far it has not been an overall success. This is due in part to the reservations that member governments are having in authorizing a set of policies that may be contradictive to domestic policies. These reservations are certainly valid, but it also goes to show that creating a completely unified set of standards can be a lengthy process; however, the clock is ticking and the new world system is slowly emerging. The sooner the EU can attain policy solidarity in the ESDP than the sooner it will be able to manage its own conflicts, gather as a single unified force, and reduce its heavy reliance upon other collective security institutions, thus, enabling it to gain even more credibility in the ever changing world order.

Camoflauge: Tiger Stripes are SOOOOO Last Season

For decades most army fatigues, now referred to as battledress uniforms incorporated wiggly patterns of solid colors known as tiger stripes. However, researchers in the field of "clutter-metrics" (the study of how well observers isolate and identify objects) have recently discredited tiger stripes. The new look for this season, as determined by researchers, are uniforms consisting of "pixels" tiny blocks of color coordinated in patterns to blend with the environment around the soldier.
The research however does not stop there. Some camoflauge designers, including those at America's Army Research Lab also study the reflective and light absorbing properties of materials common to a combat area such as concrete, sand, etc. As a result of this research fabric inks are developed with the desired optical properties to enhance a soldier's invisibility.
An "Adaptive" camoflauge line that changes in response to the environment with the use of LED technology is also in the works but let's face it guys, while these battledress uniforms, may look "fabulous" on the runway, Micheal Kors and Nina Garcia would both agree, fabric made of LED material is simply not practical, it's just not ready-to-wear. However, i have no doubt that researchers will eventually find a way to "make it work." If last season tiger stripes were in, the future of camoflauge will take its inspiration from a more "chameleon" perspective.
And how might you ask, does the american soldier make that all important transition from daytime fashion to evening wear? Fabrics are now being developed to block human heat signatures and thus make them invisible to infrared detection devices. American soldiers may be heard on the battlefield at night but as far as visual detection, they will be next to invisible.
Development of this technology is perhaps in response to the now increasing availability of infrared technology. Such technology is becoming less expensive and is now so readily available that the Taliban in Afghanistan are well equipped with it. The U.S., one of the best at conducting operations at night, needs to stay one step ahead of the competition.
However, even as people become harder and harder to spot on the battlefield, new detection technologies are being developed. Radars for foliage penetration and radars which use cell phone signals to detect stealth aircraft are just a few examples. The race is on to perfect the art of being invisible, while at the same time developing technologies to make sure you can see everybody else. Making sure the enemy stays in the spotlight while you can in essence "fade to black"
With all of the money and development that is being poured into the arms race of concealment and detection, one would hope that the distribution of these technologies will not lag behind their development. Having a poncho that can be worn at night to hide your thermal imagery from a Taliban soldier surveying the area with an infrared camera is an excellent advantage. But what happens when this technology is too expensive to produce and distribute en mass to the soldiers that need it? The taliban soldier still has his infrared, but the american soldier is left unfortunately exposed. Such a fashion faux pas...

Our soldiers deserve more than substandard care

      U.S. soldiers put their lives on the line each day to defend their country.  It is without question one of the most admirable careers a man or woman could choose.  After enlisting, training, and for many of them, traveling overseas to threatening combat zones where they will witness atrocities that most can never imagine, they return home to a hero's welcome.  The ideal situation is for a soldier to return home to their families and friends in good health, without injury.  However, what about the soldiers who have paid the price of national security with their health, and have fallen victim to injury?  These soldiers return home to seek medical care of what should be of the highest caliber, however, it has become obvious that not all VA medical facilities are providing such service.

     In February 2007, the country was rocked with the news that Walter Reed Army Medical Center was caring for veterans in substandard facilities, leaving people in shock.  How could a medical center that should be equipped with state-of-the-art medical technology be providing substandard treatment to our nation's soldiers?  This was completely unacceptable.  Although blame was juggled around, Veteran Affairs vowed to correct the problem and provide the kind of treatment these soldiers deserved.  Soldiers, their families, and the public were informed this type of crime against American soldiers would be corrected and not occur again.  This has been far from the truth.

     Surgeries at the VA medical facility in Marion, Illinois have been halted as a string of veteran deaths have occurred in the past year, which have been attributed to substandard care.  If it isn't bad enough that the office of Veteran Affairs has not kept their word to not allow soldiers to be treated in substandard conditions, the employees responsible for providing the substandard care have not been held accountable.  Illinois Representative Jerry Costello is currently trying to correct this by calling for criminal charges to be pressed against the employees involved. 

     This problem of substandard care for american veterans is not only an insult and embarrassment to the armed forces, but also serves as a hindrance to military recruitment.  How can a country recruit the best and truthfully make the promises they do when they cannot assure the highest quality of treatment for veterans?  We owe our veterans much more.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Centrifuges, Whirled Milk, & a Peaceful Iran

Centrifuges are utilized throughout the world for a multitude of peaceful purposes, like separating milk. However, they are most ominously utilized in the process of enriching uranium for the purposes of reactor fuel or weapons material. In fact, it is the quality and quantity of centrifuge(s) which dictates the rate and volume of enriched material output and enables stockpiling capabilities. Therefore, in accordance with the recent NY Times article, it is quite worrisome to note the recently declared efficiency gains made by Iran in regards to its centrifuge technology.

To begin, this revelation – if true – thrusts the world once more into worry over the now undeniable progression of an Iranian nuclear program. This ongoing development in international affairs is only exacerbated by a more confrontational Iran (following the leadership of Mahmud Amedinejahd) which appears at the moment to be manipulating the fear of nuclear armament as leverage in the expansion of influence and importance in the region. This system of diplomatic and political operating in itself is dangerous due to the potential of a renewed arms race, the prospect of a preemptive attack, and the chance of destabilization.

Perhaps more important, however, is the impact this technological development will have on the threat assessment produced by the United States in reference to Iran. With the increasing probability that Iran will soon have the capacity to produce weapons grade uranium (and produce in increasing volume), there will inevitably be a powerful shift in U.S. assessment and policy towards Iran to compensate for the burgeoning threat posed by a new, nuclear power in the Middle East.

This newest development will inevitably increase the tension in an already tenuous situation, and will hopefully generate a new pressure for multilateral negotiations, but will more likely expedite the danger of a volatile confrontation.

"Nuclear Agency Says Iran Has Improved Enrichment"

Saturday, September 13, 2008

DOD's Air Force Tanker Decision Is Just Another Example of the Air Force's Procurement Problems

The Department of Defense’s recent decision to cancel the current program replacing the Air Force’s aging fleet of airborne tankers is just another example of the problems of procurement within the Air Force and the DOD as a whole. A government auditor delivered a report to Congress in June describing the current state of procurement within the DOD. The auditor stated that the federal government spent $295 billion more than was expected on major US weapon systems in the previous fiscal year. Senator Carl Leven of Michigan said that this overrun was the “equivalent to two new aircraft carriers, eight attack submarines, 500 V-22 Ospreys, 500 Joint Strike Fighters, 10,000 mine-resistant armored vehicles and the Army's entire $130 billion Future Combat System program.” The result of these cost overruns means that more DOD programs will either be delayed or canceled altogether at a time when these programs are needed to replace aging and worn-out equipment.

The Air Force’s tanker replacement program first experienced problems in 2003 when the first plan to lease 100 Boeing 767s at a cost of $20 billion over 10 years was canceled by Congress. Then the Air Force decided to solicit bids for a replacement tanker, valued at $35 billion. Boeing and Northrop Grumman who worked with the European company EADS submitted two bids. While Northrop and EADS won the competition, Boeing filed a formal protest with the Government Accountability Office, which upheld their protest on the grounds that the competition was unfair and recommended that the competition be reopened. The replacement for the current fleet of aging tankers will now be delayed until at least next year once the new president is in office, unless any more unforeseen protests arise. All of these problems come at a time when the tanker replacement program has been named the #1 procurement priority of the Air Force.

If the Air Force, and the DOD, is going to fix these problems any time soon then it must realize that it can’t just keep throwing more money at programs thinking that it will solve their problems. All that it does is waste more of the tax payers’ money that could be better used on programs that we know are going to work. If the Air Force, or any branch of the military, is going to name a program their #1 priority, then you would think that they would put their best people on it and make sure that it was handled right. Let’s just hope that the DOD gets these problems figured out before our equipment starts to break down when we are called on to defend a NATO country from Russian aggression.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Venezuela and Russia

Apparently, in addition to sending over warships for exercises, Russia has decided to send over two strategic bombers for a similar purpose. A "strategic bomber," according to wikipedia, is a bomber capable of dropping lots of bombs on a distant target, like a city or military base. In other word, something that would be of only limited use in controlling "counter-revolutionaries" in Venezuela or even the "rightist" regime next door. This is apparently the same bomber that Russia uses for its long range patrols. This is a massive piece of engineering, far outside of anything Venezuela needs practice with for its conceivable threats.

So, why is it in Venezuela right now, if only for a few days? Well, Chavez himself might get to fly one. This seems to be deliberate provocation. To be fair, apparently Venezuela has a decent air force, and may currently lack training. However, bringing in a heavy bomber that you don't plan on selling to the country doesn't seem like a good way to train them. If they're running missions together, a less advanced (and less threatening) bomber would probably do just as well.

What is especially interesting is that, according to the same article, China has actually sold Chavez some airplanes. However, the Chinese ones are training and "light attack aircraft." In other words, China is letting Chavez have little piddly stuff that the US wouldn't worry about. They're also getting more back than Russia is.

The most unbelievable part, though, is Chavez's idea that this will bring about a "pluri-polar" world, and that it shows the end of "Yankee hegemony." A pair of Russian bombers in Venezuela for a few days, even with a few Russian ships near harbor, by no means show an end of American hegemony in the Western hemisphere. Perhaps the US will think twice before doing anything in Venezuela; you'd better believe Russia will think a lot more than twice before coming to Chavez's aid. If nothing else, Chavez is going out of his way to make this whole thing more provocative than it originally needed to be; I wonder how Russia feels about that? If they're just tweaking the US, then it might make sense. Otherwise, they (like us before) might want to think about the wisdom of allying with crazy people.

Homegrown Terrorism in the US: Still a Threat?

A recent FBI report on Neo-Nazi attempts to recruit from within the US military and to send existing group members into the military to train for future "race wars" highlights the issue of domestic terrorism in the United States. A little over a decade ago, following the Oklahoma City Bombings, domestic terrorism was the issue of the day. Far-right wing domestic extremism was also brought to the fore during the 90s by two other dramatic events: confrontations between federal agents and the Weaver family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Branch Davidian followers of David Koresh in Waco, Texas.

I also remember lots of news reports during the 90s (even though I was just a little kid) about conspiracy-minded non-government sanctioned militias (most notably the Michigan Militia) stockpiling weapons and training in preparation for, I dunno, the arrival of black helicopters or some such. My understanding of the situation is that most of these groups kind of lost their cache and their fervor after 2000 with the election of President Bush, who had views more in line with theirs.

This FBI report is, to me, a reminder that domestic terrorism is still an issue in the United States. It is difficult to tell whether the media's shift away from reporting on such groups since the 90s is a result of the decline of these organizations, a shift toward reporting on international terrorism since 9/11, or some combination of the two.

If you're interested in keeping tabs on these sorts of issues, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project is the only source that I'm aware of tracking and reporting on white nationalist, neoconfederate, Christian identity, black separatist, & other extremist groups in the US. They even have a cool interactive map that lets you track hate groups in your home state!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Are Fantasies a Detriment to National Security?

Clearly, in order to answer this, one must have a clear understanding of our national interest…what must we secure. Would it be in our national interest then to lose more money than the budget for the city of San Francisco with nothing to show for it in the end? Most would say “no”.

In a side-splitting article in the most recent Sports Illustrated, Chris Ballard cited an August report from a Chicago research group that showed that US employers lose more than Jamaica’s GNP during the 17 week regular season of the National Football League. “Hey mon” you say, who is the culprit. Well, possibly you. If you recently drafted a roster of players that you will never meet, pay, or interact with, and you refer to them as “your” team, than you are the problem. Fantasy football owners will cost their employers more than $9.2 Billion (BILLION!!!) dollars in lost work over the season (according to Ballard, you could also buy 9 NFL franchises for that amount).

Fantasy football is not alone. Fantasy sports are participated in by fans around the nation in nearly every popular American sport…Baseball, Basketball, Golf, NASCAR, and flipcup (OK, maybe not). In the much shorter three week period of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, fans truly go ‘mad’. In March of every year, fans slip away to check scores, research teams, and fill out their brackets for office polls. Experts argue that more than $3.8 Billion is lost by US employers from the day the NCAA Selection Committee publishes its bracket until the morning after the Championship game. By dividing the loss to employers by the weeks in which the loss takes place, March Madness (or the NCAA Tournament for those that aren’t afflicted by the addiction) trumps Fantasy Football at more than $1.26 Billion per week in lost revenue.

The Olympics also had a huge impact on employers. According to Neilson Online, more than 2 million people visited the video section of www.nbcolympics.com on Aug. 11 -- the first full day of work after the Olympics began. Yahoo!'s Olympic Web site's visitors were up 86 percent in the same time period.

This argument has less to do with America’s addiction to football, and the fantasy fallout of that sport than it does with efficiency in the workplace. Surely, employers lost serious bank while American fixated on media outlets showing the play-by-play assault on Baghdad in 2003. Without fail, Governor Palin has already impacted employers as Americans try to answer the questions, “Who is she?” and “Are there any better pics on Google images?” The election year will certainly affect the employers.

In pure National Security terms, $9.2 and $3.8 billion are hardly a drop in the bucket of the Department of Defense’s $440 billion budget or the $170 billion in extra-budgetary supplements used to help pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, when you break down the defense budget, the nation will spend less this year on Missile Defense ($8.8 B), the Joint Strike Fighter ($6.1 B), Future Combat Systems ($3.7 B), and the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships ($1.2 B) than one might estimate is being wasted by Americans and their online games. Though it may be hard to translate a loss by US employers into National Security and defense funding, it goes without saying that Jamaica might want to do its very best to deter its citizens from becoming so infatuated with these distractions.

If the US populace is affected this greatly by fantasy sports, March Madness, and the news in general, one must wonder how it affects soldiers who are operating in combat or in defense of the nation. I can only imagine a Commander in his command post switching windows on his PC when no-one is watching so that he can drop Tom Brady from his roster and add one of Week 1’s rookie heroes. (Perhaps someone on the blog can address this?)

Who knows, maybe the President even spends his valuable time studying for the fantasy draft and shuffling his lineup week to week in order to best match up with his opponents…Dick, Donnie, Condi, who knows? But if he does, then even if it wasn’t before, it is surely a problem of National Security now. http://www.sportspickle.com/features/volume2/2003-0903-bush.html

Something is Wrong in North Korea

Sources in South Korea's embassy in China are verifying claims that Kim Jong-Il collapsed on August 22nd. He has not been seen in public for nearly a month and was conspicuously absent from a militaristic display celebrating the 60th anniversary of the DPRK.

This development comes at the same time a former Japanese intel officer claims that Kim died in 2003 and has 4 body doubles. Rumors like these are usually based off inabilities to explain incongruent events. The existence of these rumors in such close proximity point to something developing in the North concerning Kim Jong-Il.

The innocent explanation of Kim's absence from the parade (which he attended in 1998 and 2003) is, according to one analyst, " He has nothing to show his people, with a deadlock in nuclear disarmament talks and in normalisation talks with Japan on top of food shortages."

The explanation that Kim Jong-Il has actually died, or is in serious condition, is bolstered by two additional facts: 1) A team of Chinese doctors were dispatched to the DPRK around the time of Kim's reported collapse and have yet to return 2) North Korea's recent rhetoric concerning the six-party talks, disarmament, and rebuilding the Yongbyon reactor.

The official statement from North's foreign ministry criticized the 'verification requirement' as an unjust demand. They made a counter-demand of verification that no nuclear weapons are in South Korea and assurances that U.S. will not send them there. Most telling, they invoked the term 'nuclear deterrent' for only the second time since 2006. The state-run media has used the term 'war deterrent' numerous times - in comparison with sparse prior mentions - since the date of Kim's reported collapse (possibly a stroke, or complications with his diabetes).

The 'spokesman statement' from the North also mentioned that steps concerning the rebuilding of the Yongbyon reactor will take into account the demands of relevant North Korean agencies. In 2002, a concrete statement was issued in which no consideration was given to 'multiple or competing voices within the regime' in regards to nuclear activities.

These considerations lend credence to rumors that something is wrong in North Korea. There is no heir-apparent and North Korean leaders are aware of that a crisis in leadership could present and opening for the toppling of their government by Western interests. The rhetoric on the reactor, and invoking a 'nuclear deterrent', could well be their attempts at deterring the West while they are in the midst of a crisis.

Why would they derail the talks? Why invoke the strong language of 'nuclear deterrent'? Why issue a statement that mentions different, possible dissenting voices within the power structures of the government? Kim Jong-Il has given no such consideration to other agencies of the government and their wishes. If he is still running North Korea at the moment, these statements represent a departure from his past behavior and his style of governing.

National Security: Memo to the Next President

Eric Rosenbach, executive director of research at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and former staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was interviewed about his opinion on what the next president of the United States should concentrate on when confronted with U.S. national security and intelligence capabilities (Interview). Essentially he said, whoever wins the election will have to learn from the last eight years of the Bush administration and do many things differently.

First, Rosenbach claims that a reorganization of the intelligence community simply does not solve any problems.  The recent reorganization of 2004 led to a reshuffling of the cards, but really only caused chaos.  He recommends the next president not to focus on reorganization, but to develop strong leaders within the intelligence community that do their job instead of worrying about organizational novelties.  Thus, Rosenbach claims the reorganization of the intelligence community has been more disturbing than productive.

Second, in the interview Rosenbach states that the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) created in 2004, which was established as a coordination and collaboration platform for all intelligence communities, has not reached its full potential.  It still lacks the ability to develop efficient "strategic policy planning" and focuses too much on the detailed tracking of terrorists, than on the greater picture.   Also, information sharing is still not fully established, especially on the state and local levels, and the NCTC collaboration with the CIA needs strengthening in order to discover and analyze new threats.

Further, with oil prices skyrocketing, Rosenbach claims that the public has to expand its view of the intelligence community and see that it also serves to detect new threats that derive from energy shortages and crises and from the impact that climate change has on national security.  If the public realizes that these are also issues on the agenda of the intelligence community, it will realize that the intelligence community's purpose is not limited to fighting terrorism and people might feel a stronger connection to it in their everyday lives.

In addition, Rosenbach advises the next president to work closely with allies on counterterrorism.  Continuing close relationships with foreign intelligence services is essential in order for the U.S. to have access to a wider range of information.  However, he also states that it is important for the U.S. to constantly be open to new partners in the field so it can keep evolving its knowledge and perfecting its counterterrorism capabilities.

In conclusion however, Rosenbach thinks that the U.S. intelligence community has significantly improved its abilities since 9/11. It is now able to "track down" dangerous enemies of the United States and analysis capabilities are also better than pre-9/11.  He uses the recent Iran National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to indicate how much the intelligence community's abilities have improved compared to the Iraq NIE from a few years ago.

Overall, I think whoever the next president will be, he should utilize the intelligence community platform established in the post-9/11 era and try to make it more efficient and not let organizational superficialities get in the way of efficient collection and analysis. And he should also be willing to listen to experts in the field.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Your Hummer is Making the US Less Secure (in additon to making you look like a tool)

Former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke recently asserted in an article in Foreign Affairs that, with the recent rise in energy prices, we are experiencing "the greatest transfer of wealth from one set of nations to another in history."

The transferers (read: suckers) in this case are the major oil consumers: the US, Europe, China, Japan & India. And the transferees are the major oil exporting nations. Seems all well & good--the producers have a product that the consumers want, so they sell it, get rich, & everybody's happy.

Unfortunately, it ain't that simple.

The rub here is, of course, that many of the states growing fat off the global spike in energy prices are home to unsavory regimes with, in many cases, foreign policy goals antithetical to those of the major consumers (especially those of the US, Europe, & Japan). And the recipients of the oil-gluttonous countries' cash, clearly aware of their increased clout, are exhibiting a dangerous new swagger on the world stage. Witness Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flouting western attempts to reign in Iran's nuclear ambitions, Hugo Chavez threatening Colombia and calling out President Bush in front of the UN General Assembly, & Vladimir Putin generally stirring shit up in the Caucasus.

So, the logical solution here would be to stop using so much foreign energy. The American political establishment seems to have reached consensus on this--the buzzword of the day being "energy security." Democrats urge us to wear sweaters, inflate our tires, & build windmills, while Republicans exhort us to "drill, baby, drill" (seemingly oblivious to the global nature of hydrocarbon markets).

Of course, any steps taken toward these goals will probably be all for naught if the emerging economies in India & China develop rates of energy consumption approaching those in the wealthy west and the petro-pushers simply shift to a new set of energy-junky clients.

So, what's the solution here? A major decrease in foreign oil consumption by wealthy countries with high consumption rates coupled with some sort of major assistance program designed to help emerging economies develop in a less energy-consumptive manner seems like the only solution from my vantage point.

This problem is huge, pressing, & has been seemingly ignored for the past few decades. And we're not even delving into the environmental impact of the current worldwide energy regime & global climate change...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Culture Drives the National Interest

Arnold Wolfers makes it clear in "National Security" As an Ambiguous Symbol, that "numerous domestic factors such as national character, tradition, preferences and prejudices will influence the level of security which a nation chooses to make its target". By analyzing American culture, it is readily apparent that a high level of national security will always remain a key tenet of the American national interest.

Though some may argue that democracies should not be violent in nature, it is imperative to realize that though there may be a paucity of wars amongst democracies, that democratic societies themselves are often violent. With this in mind, we should take a look at our own society. In doing so, it readily becomes clear that security is upheld as our most critical national interest by our character, traditions, and our preferences.

We are a nation that emerged as a result of a violent revolution. That revolution is glorified in our history books, movies, and folklore. Our society upholds the heroes of the revolution, and carries forth from that era a belief that weapons are integral to the security of our homes and our nation. Furthermore, the American frontier was also won through struggle. The violent expansion westward was made possible in many ways by the right to bear arms.

With violence, comes the need for security. Americans are not only violent in their dealings with the outside world. The American culture embraces violence in nearly every part of society: sports, movies, musical lyrics, and video games. In The Clash with Distant Cultures (1995), Richard Payne cites numerous staggering statistics that depict the American tendency toward violence.

  1. 1991 poll: 72% of Americans believe force is appropriate to maintain international justice, whereas, 70% of Japanese feel it is inappropriate

  2. 400,000 students carried weapons to school...in 1987!

  3. 66 Million loaded weapons reported in American homes...for the purpose of security

  4. Gun accessibility - only 75 of 35,000 license requests denied in 1990.

  5. Murder rates (reflects use of violence to solve problems, per 100,000 citizens -1998 stats) US – 8.4, Canada – 5.5, Germany – 4.2, UK – 2.0, Japan – 0.8

  6. Average 16 year old has witnessed more than 200,000 acts of violence

When cultural values and norms reflect a nature of violence and an emphais for security against that violence, it is only logical that a nation immersed in violence will be more liklely to hold security as a supreme national interest. The reality is that culture, not realism, accounts largely for the American tendency to place national security as the main focus in terms of national interest.