Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nature's Security Threat

When thinking in terms of national security, what most commonly comes to mind are images of such things as military invasions, planes crashing into buildings, suicide bombers walking into busy cafes, infectious computer viruses, or crashing stock markets. All of these things are of great national security concern, but they are not the only threats. Often underestimated and overshadowed by the horrors of man-made threats, natural threats pose just as must of a problem to our national security.

Consider natural disasters; for example, Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it would be difficult to argue that dealing with natural disasters is something we have mastered yet. Even today, five years after she ripped through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the wounds left by Katrina are still sore. After all, Katrina was one of the deadliest hurricanes to hit the United States in this century, killing almost 2,000 people directly. Katrina interrupted the US economy greatly, cutting short oil supply lines, crippling large parts of Louisiana’s and Mississippi’s infrastructure causing import and export delays, destroying many homes, businesses, and other structures, especially in New Orleans. The entire economic impact of Katrina in just Louisiana and Mississippi is estimated at $150 billion. The destruction of property and livelihoods caused massive migration effects in the region, with unaffected areas forced to accommodate over one million refugees. This not only burdened surrounding areas, but it left a void in the affected areas in the form of a lack of economic activity or citizens to pay taxes necessary for resetting the state economies. Katrina’s destruction also placed a burden on the entire rest of the country, as nearly $100 billion in economic aid has been provided by the federal government for disaster relief and rebuilding. In addition, land erosion, oil spills, destruction of wildlife habitats, and other environmental effects resulted from Katrina. And let’s not forget about the violence and horrendous living conditions that many survivors of Katrina, stranded in New Orleans, had to endure during the aftermath. Hurricane Katrina offers the perfect example of how nature should not be underestimated, how we will have to prepare for sobering reminders of the fact that we are not as “in charge” as we think we are, even on our own soil.

Another kind of natural phenomenon that threatens our sense of national security is disease and illness. From infectious diseases to influenza to the common cold, disease and illness are dangerous to those affected and have the potential to greatly endanger national interests and flow of activity and commerce. For example, recent outbreaks of cholera in Haiti have had devastating effects on an already suffering population. This outbreak has been traced to foreigners entering Haiti from somewhere in South Asia, as the particular strand of cholera is usually only found there. So far, the cholera epidemic has killed nearly 2400 Haitians, with Haiti having only about 9 million inhabitants. This would be equivalent to 80,000 Americans dying out of our population of 300 million. Infectious diseases do not truly have borders. Wherever there is a flow of people, there is potential for new breeding grounds for diseases to spread. This is why disease monitoring and control are incredibly important to national security. In the United States in recent years, we have worried about Influenza A, or H1N1, also known as “swine flu.” Not only did this new strand of flu pose a threat to the health of our population, but it also caused widespread hysteria and panic, which can also be dangerous. Along with H1N1, even the “common cold,” considered more annoying than dangerous, can cause harm. Illness within a population means a compromised work force and a lag in economic activity, an obvious security concern.

The main point here is that national security does not just involve defense against the devious scheming of malevolent men. National security defense encompasses all threats to a nation’s welfare. This is not to say that man-made threats are not dangerous. It is a difficult practice to monitor and prevent terrorist activity or to maneuver through the trials of failing economies, but it is just as difficult to foresee natural threats or to prevent, contain, or recover from them. While we can always try to put ourselves in other men’s shoes and try to predict their behavior, we will never “think” like unpredictable Mother Nature, therefore she will always have the upper hand. All we can do is remain mindful of the security threat that natural crises and happenings pose.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fall 2010 Final Exam

National Security Policy
Fall 2010
Final Exam

Answer one of the following three questions. Your exam is due at 5:45m today.

  1. The Obama administration has pursued a “reset” of relations with Russia. What security dividends, if any, has this reset paid? What costs has the reset incurred to the United States? How important to the US is a good relationship with Russia?
  2. Outline the pitfalls associated with the use of military force in response to North Korean provocations. How should the US and its allies (Japan and South Korea) evaluate the utility of force in their relationship with North Korea?
  3. Discuss the costs and benefits of a long-term NATO commitment to Afghanistan. How important is it that the US achieve its preferred objectives in Afghanistan, and what should those objectives be?

Russia and Afghanistan's renewed relationship--this time pick a safe word

When I first saw this article in the WP my first thought was “I told you so” regarding my last policy proposal in Russian Foreign and Security Policy (even though all of you were looking at me like I was insane to propose such a thing). In my presentation I suggested that the US encourage Russia to engage in something like this, secretly endorsing Russia-Afghanistan cooperation. Media coverage of this is not really addressing why this would be good for the US.

The short of it is that Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan have come to some agreement to cooperate in counternarcotics efforts. This comes after the October raid in which Russia contributed its first eight boots on the ground in Afghanistan since the unsuccessful incursion by the Soviets way back when. The Russian force was small ( just 4 counternarcotics officers of a total coalition contingency of 70) but it was highly symbolic. It indicated that Russia, which has been reluctant to get its feet wet in Afghanistan since the US helped the mujahedeen push the USSR back, is ready to dip its toe in the water once again.

Russia has been pushing the US big time in regards to counternarcotics. Most of poppy grown in Afghanistan finds its way into Russian hands…and probably all of it into Russia’s sphere of influence. The profits of the poppy largely fund insurgencies in Russia and its sphere. Russia has asked, pleaded and all but demanded that the US raze all the poppy fields. The US may be in favor of burning the fields to the ground in principle, but is unwilling to deal with the Accidental Guerilla fallout that will surely ensue. The US would rather contain that region now and let the Afghan government deal with it later. It was looking as if this would be the plan until last week when it seems the US was cut out of the loop.

This might make some hesitant. Russia is once again expanding its sphere of influence into Afghanistan…while the US is still trying to get things under control there. Some are taken back by Russia doing anything without the US’s position due to its expansionist past. Russia taking the lead on something/anything in Afghanistan is not all bad for the US though.

Sure, there are some “what ifs”: what if Russia’s operations complicate or conflict with coalition operations? What if Russia begins to politically undermine the US in Afghanistan?…they do after all have less than altruistic economic interests in getting Gazprom into Afghanistan. The hypothetical aside, Afghanistan will need a big brother once Papa US draws down. Russia is in a good position to play that role.

There are several pros to be gained in keeping Russian involvement separate from US operations in Afghanistan, at least publicly separate. This situation would, of course, be optimal if the US and Russia coordinate on everything as to avoid stepping on toes or making things more difficult for one another. But this coordination should be high level and somewhat clandestine.

In Afghanistan there is a perception, especially in remaining poppy dependent communities, that Russia is anti-west and distinctly at odds with the US (held over from the Soviet era). This can be used. The Afghan National Police can capitalize on this by bringing Russia into the fold where American presence alone creates resistance. Russian counternarcotics forces can train and assist ANP so that they are perceived by the communities as something other than American puppets. Working with Russia and not overtly the US can contribute to the increased credibility and effectiveness of ANP, especially in Taliban dominated areas…and possibly even reduce the accidental guerilla symptoms that come from American boots on the ground.

As mentioned above, Russia has some wishes for economic involvement in Afghanistan. Russia really wants access to gas fields in the Northern provinces. Plus, Russia would like nothing better than to be invested in the energy infrastructure through the country. There is a hydroelectric plant which is in desperate need of a “remodel”. Russian industry would like access to several similar contracts. If Russia can invest effective in Afghanistan, this would lead to a long-term economic relationship between the two countries which is a win-win-win for Russia, Afghanistan and the US. The quicker Afghanistan can become self-sufficient, the better. There is no country better in the region to get Afghanistan to that point.

And we all know that economic prosperity will make a world of difference in counterinsurgency. Strong economic ties will also contribute to the legitimacy of the Afghan government in its ability to provide for its people. Plus, Russian economic interests are not just in resource extraction, so the economic impact of Russian industry has great potential.

Both the economic and security cooperation between Russia and Afghanistan mean that once the US is gone, Afghanistan will have a regional partner to lean on. Russian investment and security cooperation might just be what Afghanistan needs if long-term regional stability is to take hold.

Rare Earth Creationism




On Tuesday, China announced that it will raise export taxes on several of the rare earth metals that it produces. Taxes on the all-important elements already range from 15-35% but China claims that it wants to begin regulating its exports to protect its resources and environment (better extraction processes might help). If China didn’t produce roughly 97% of the rare earths on the market then this wouldn’t be news, but unfortunately China does and it is news.

Rare earths are a very elastic commodity, irreplaceable in hundreds of modern technological innovations from simple light bulbs to magnets made of samarium cobalt in the Aegis Spy-1 radar to fin actuators used in precision-guided munitions. A drastic short-fall in supplies would be catastrophic not just to production of everyday household items but also to technology vital to U.S. national security.

Investors and purchasers might be initially alarmed at the increasing taxes and lower production levels, but China has been steadily decreasing availability over the last year providing many importers the opportunity to start shopping elsewhere. China might currently produce most rare earths but it is only home to 30% of global reserves (still a mighty amount) meaning China’s extraction companies may have the jump but that there’s still room for other countries to begin investing in themselves.

Michael Lind’s “The American Way of Trade” proposes a defense oriented economic statecraft where the United States continues to engage in globalization on all fronts but national security. Lind is concerned that globalization and attendant outsourcing opens the U.S. defense industrial complex to market shocks and, worse, vulnerability to intelligence and resource capture by a foreign entity. Should Lind have his way the United States will be self sufficient in producing necessary components for defense materials.

Is the U.S. capable of producing its own rare earths? According to the U.S. Geological Survey the United States contains just under 30% of the global supply—only less than China and the Commonwealth of Independent Nations. But China’s supply is considerably closer to the surface than the U.S.’—the current cost of producing in the America is too high to break a profit. Further, the GAO released a study in April stating that rebuilding an independent supply chain of rare earths could take seven to fifteen years—an eternity if China continues raising prices and cutting down production.

Rising prices aren’t all bad though. It might soon become profitable for domestic companies to begin extracting and producing rare earths stateside. That could lower U.S. foreign dependency and with government subsidies and competition drive innovation to more effectively and efficiently extract the elements. Currently, Molycorp, an American company, is planning on re-opening a large mine in California in 2012 and in 2011 Lynas Corp. of Australia plans on opening a giant of a mine in the Down Under. U.S. options even now aren’t limited and it would be foolish of the government not to begin diversifying.

China’s recent rare earth provocations and tax hikes should be cause for worry but only if the market doesn’t move to pick up the slack. However, the market appears to be doing just that albeit slowly. In the meantime the DoD should be researching replacement elements to reduce rare earth elasticity and unnecessary panic.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


China. China China China. China is. China is America’s challenger in Asian hegemony. America’s competitor in the global economy. America’s cohort in avoiding environmental responsibilities. So much goes on between both countries that it’s difficult to keep track of just where the two are competing and where they are getting along.

Pyongyang’s Yongpyong Island shelling last month caused a diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and China over whether or not to enter into talks with N.K. At the same time both countries have been meeting for increased military cooperation and transparency. Diplomatic bottlenecks be damned—does the U.S. really want to talk with N.K. again?—the two powers that be are determined to keep hostilities (between each other) to a minimum.

A new guarantee for that minimum is Japan’s new defense posture: at China. Japan’s defensive posture had previously been prepared for Russia, but China’s brusque insistence over the Senkaku Islands has rankled Japan’s nose. Increasing its submarine force (from 16-22), placing 100 troops on Yonaguni Island (Japan’s westernmost island) for Chinese naval surveillance, and the completion of Keen Sword 11 (sounds like a video game) with the United States all signal Japan’s new stance.

China’s eager territorial assertiveness and tacit support of North Korea are proving a burden necessitating a permanent U.S. presence in the Pacific and a more defiant Japanese attitude. Moreover, if China’s aggressiveness doesn’t subside it could stand to see an India-S. Korea-Japan naval axis aimed at stopping it. With U.S. support that would be a tough bond to break…as long as the U.S. gets a handle in too.

BP asset sales, state-owned companies and national security


BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is old, old news. But what has gone relatively unnoticed is the possible energy and national security impact of BP's asset sales meant to cover the costs of the Deepwater Horizon incident.

BP aims to sell $30 billion in assets, and China and Russia are lining up to grab what they can, including most recently United Energy Group's purchase of $775 million of BP assets in Pakistan. United Energy Group is a a Hong Kong-based company with much of its assets in China and Indonesia.

Payment? In cash.

Other than that, here's the asset sale list, courtest of BNet's Kirsten Korosec:

Assets sold to date:


Korosec fails to mention BP's sale of German pipeline and refinery assets to Venezuala, who promptly turned around and sold the works to Russia' Rosneft for $1.6 billion. That purchase is directly in line with Russia's goals of controlling domestic upstream assets and buying up downstream assets in countries it can't control through cruder means, such as price and supply variations. Also, the sale goes very much against Germany's goal of not selling transport and downstream assets to Russia. Bottom line, Russia wins.

These purchases underline what I believe is an unexpected cost of the BP oil spill for the United States: The strengthening of state-run or influenced energy corporations from Russia and China. While BP's ownership of the assets didn't necessarily strengthen US energy security, their ownership by Russia and China embeds those firms more deeply in the global energy market. Even India has found itself trying to play catchup by instructing its state-owned energy firms to search overseas for assets to purchase.

That growing grasp comes with national security implications, since state-owned industries are seldom fully divorced from those states' international affairs goals.

As the Wall Street Journal puts it:

States use these tools to create wealth that can be directed as political officials see fit. The ultimate motive is not economic (maximizing growth) but political (maximizing the state's power and the leadership's chances of survival). This can distort the performance of markets. State-run companies and investment funds are also burdened with the same bureaucracy, waste and political cronyism that burden the (often authoritarian) governments that control them.

So while BP is doing its duty to pay for the costs of its Gulf of Mexico spill, there are larger ramifications for international relations and national security. Stay tuned for more sales as BP attempts to sell another $10 billion worth of assets.

Who do you think will be in line with a fistful of cash?

My Post On Wikileaks: The End of Julian Assange

Well, everyone else seems to have an opinion about Wikileaks, so I figured I'd write about it as well. Even my mother, who is a step up from living in a cave when it comes to the news, asked me after this whole DoS cable dumb kicked off a couple weeks ago, "Hey Shaft, have you heard about this Wikileaks?" If my mother knows about it, then it is safe to assume Wikileaks has permeated every possible nook and cranny of our society without exception.

This whole Wikileaks affair makes for interesting reading, that's for sure. There are some really thoughtful pieces out there about Julian Assange's motivating political philosophies and world view. There's certainly plenty of talk about how damaging to US international diplomacy the latest document release has been. The vast majority of the articles have analyzed the actual documents themselves and dug into new revelations about US diplomacy. Most recently, there has been talk of the complexities of building a case against Assange.

After reading a number of articles and watching a couple interviews, I have made a preliminary conclusion: Julian Assange is, by nature, a prick. Whether you agree with what he has been doing via Wikileaks or not, you must conclude that he's a prick... or at least has prickish inclinations. While his dimenor is calm, he has an aire about him that says gently, "you know I'm better than you, right? You know I'm smarter than you. I'm doing this Wikileaks thing. It's me against the governments of the world. Ha ha ha." He's the kind of guy who wears a gold-trimmed robe and eats caviar whilst reading The New Yorker with The View on in the background. Classic prick. Of course, this is preliminary. I'll be sure to post if my impression becomes drastically more favorable for some unforeseen reason.

What's even more interesting about his whole Wikileaks deal is the apparent contradiction embedded in the process of leaking these documents. This is certainly the WikiLeaks paradox: As documents are revealed to the public for the cause of openness and transparency, it will actually lead to less of both as people become reluctant to share information for fear of being outed. This will lead to less dialogue, less understanding, less frankness, less meaningful exchange, all of which is essential to diplomacy and the international conversation. It will have the opposite affect those who support Wikileaks and its philosophy desire. So if not to fix the system this way, then my suggestion is to fix it from within. If you want more openness in government, then join the government, get the proper training and gain the knowledge of what goes on, then work your way into the proper department, and start confidentiality reform from the inside out. You have to learn the system before you can begin to fix the system.

As for the future of this whole mess, here are my predictions:

How all this will play out...
Julian Assange will be tied up in Swedish court for the next year, possibly get a harsher punishment for having sex in Sweden than he otherwise would have gotten (curtsy of some phone calls and maybe a letter from US leadership). He'll fall off the radar for a couple years as he regroups and then all at once jump back into the international news via the same methods and BS as before. We'll all be talking about this again in 2014. PFC Bradley Manning will go to trial and get 10-15 years if convicted of mishandling state secrets. US leadership will tout these happenings as a victory against a serious threat to national security and meanwhile, the US confidential system will not change or alter or amend itself in the least.

How all this should play out...
Julian Assange is tied up in Swedish court and put in jail for a couple years. Meanwhile, PFC Bradley Manning receives a fair trail and if convicted, is shot. Once released, Assange comes out swinging with new leaks to posts and is back to all his old tricks. Then one day he gets in his car, turns the key, and boom... Yes, this would seem convenient for the US, but your first thought is wrong. It wasn't the US. The real lesson here... don't mess around with Swedish women.

North Korea: Imagining The Straw That Breaks The Peninsula's Back

The Korean Peninsula was divided in two by the Allies during the Potsdam Conference in August 1945. Since then, the world has watched as the South caught the globalization wave and left the North to its inwardly-focused economics and strange leadership. Recent events have brought the Korean discussion to an interesting impasse and many are claiming the North Korean regime has seen the writing on the wall and is acting out accordingly, preparing for its demise.

So what's the real Korean Peninsula end game? Will the South continue to successfully side-step war with the North until the regime collapses from within without a shot fired? Will the six-party talks resume and agree to a peaceful end? Or will it take a couple more Chenoan incidents before the South feels it is boxed in and must militarily respond? Even then, the South's military response certainly might fall short of outright invasion. Or a few shellings back and forth and there could be degeneration into a devastating, all-out conventional war? Things really could go one way or the other at this point, as far as an outside view can tell. So the question we arrive to is, what will it take for the Korean Peninsula to finally unify itself? What action is going to push it finally over the brink?

One thought could be if something goes wrong during the transition from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un. The internal power dynamics of this secretive country remain largely unknown and things could be much less stable than they are thought to be (which they are already thought to be quite unstable as it is). Maybe a disagreement emerges between Kim Jong Un and some of the very powerful military leadership, which could lead to a coup, and then who knows?

One common argument that the end is coming uses the brutal conditions that North Koreans live under as clear evidence that the situation cannot be sustained forever. Eventually something has to give, right? I'm not convinced. The North Korean people have endured food shortages and famines since the 1990s, a currency revaluation a year ago that wiped out personal savings, crackdowns on free market and enterprise, isolation from the outside world, and (if that's not enough) have been completely brainwashed. Time has proven that the suffering of the North Korean people will not be enough to tip the balance toward unification.

So what will it be? Seoul does not want war for a myriad of reasons, primarily because the city itself is 30 miles from the DMZ and will be the target of hundreds of North Korean shells. This is not to mention the economic disaster that would ensue should reunification suddenly take place. So reunification is not in Seoul's interest. And it certainly is not in Pyongyang's interest either as it is widely understood that a conventional war on the Korean Peninsula would result in the end of the regime. And further, reunification (or at least the risks involved in the reunification process) is not in US or Chinese interests given their security agreements with each country. A war between China and the US would take much more than anything going on in the Korean Peninsula, given the stakes involved (at least hopefully, that is). So all that said, it is in no one's interest to reunify the Korean Peninsula, but there is wide agreement that the status quo cannot be maintained.

So here's my prediction. Sometime over the next year, a grave miscalculation, on either side, a couple stray shells here or there, an incursion too far, a mixed signal that is misinterpreted, and boom, we've got a shootin' war folks. The situation is currently serious and getting more so. The US and China call for restraint, but do nothing. Seoul is devastated, the Northern army fights and dies, maybe even a nuke hits a target in the South, but after the bloodshed, the North is overwhelmed, surrenders, its leadership put to a long and drawn out globally-watched trail, and reunification costs the South billions.

The end is coming. It's dire, it sucks, but hey, that's life.

If…er…When North Korea Falls


It is nice to see that someone is considering this problem. Whether the Korean Peninsula erupts in a real shooting conventional war or North Korea buckles under the pressure of the shifting regime, or whatever may follow in the future, stability operations and nation-building are a certainty and counterinsurgency a distinct possibility. This demands a concerted effort by the Defense and State Departments to learn our lessons from our most recent conflicts.

The Defense Department, historically, has proven to be a “learning organization,” albeit one that is a bit slow to react. Some may question whether such comments should be made about State. Since the onset of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, Defense has adjusted doctrine, training, and focus. This is not without many skeptics regarding the extent and legitimacy of the change. State seems to have shown some change through new organizations and specialties, but the change is not well reflected in the strangely elusive QDDR.

Just as Defense has increased multinational cooperation and training with the ROK Military, State should similarly prepare for the potential stability operations that will follow the fall of the North. Assuming this has not already been done, this will require significant advances in interagency cooperation. Defense has found its way through the darkness in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the relative proximity of those nations to major world actors changes the calculus.

A lag on the Korean Peninsula similar to Iraq and "The Stan" would be overwhelmingly different given China’s interests in the region. Though I do not want a new geopolitical “Great Game” in the region, one must wonder who the former North Koreans, out from under Kim Jong Il’s boot, will look to. Korean kinship may have lost its effect given the Kim family’s longstanding relationship with China.

Balancing between Old Friends and New Foes





In the past weeks meetings between high level Philippine and Chinese military officials have resulted in the likely establishment of bilateral military logistics agreement. China is seeking to expand its military influence within the American sphere of influence within the Pacific. For the United States this military cooperation between China and its long-time ally the Philippines is both an embarrassing slap in the face as well as a defense setback in a security critical region of the world.

The budding military cooperation between China and the Philippines comes in the wake of what appeared to be a warming of relations between the United States and its former Commonwealth. In September, President Aquino returned from Washington DC with billions of dollars worth of US aid and the prospect for additional billions in American private investment. Away from economic realms, however, the relationship between the US and the Philippines militarily is much cooler, and it was this lack of cooperation from the viewpoint of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) that caused Manila to look towards Beijing for military aid.

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), signed between the Philippines and the United States in 1999 stipulates that the United States will aid in the modernization of the Philippine Army. President Aquino, both formerly as a candidate and after his election has made modernization of the AFP a top priority, as AFP forces and their American allies continue to battle with Islamic militants in the southern islands. A recent Filipino review of the VFA, however, found that the US was not doing enough to assist in the modernization of Filipino armed forces. Matters were made worse soon after when the Obama Whit House released a travel adversary for American citizens heading towards Manila, which the latter saw as an overtly political response to its negative review of the VFA.

Whether a bumbling political miscue or an misguided intentional jab at a vital security partner, the American administration’s actions have driven the Philippines into to receptive arms of Beijing. To their credit, however, the Philippines needed little extra motivation to pursue opportunities to the east. As was discussed in a previous post by this author on National Security Policy, the Philippines is using its unique position of being of vital importance to both Washington and Beijing to extract aid and support of the regions greatest powers. Even though the current Chinese military aid is likely to take the form of only heavy construction equipment, and does little to help conduct the counter-insurgency operations which the US Army assists the AFP with, it does send a clear signal to the US that Manila is more than willing to take its support elsewhere.

Though the Philippines lack the power or the will to hold the US hostage in regards to military aid, their position is strong enough for them to make it abundantly clear to the US that military assistance to the islands is of high priority. Stretched thin in Afghanistan and facing a dire economic situation, the Obama administration has given little to no attention to the storm clouds gathering in the east, and has failed to recognize the vital strategic importance of the Philippines in regards to United States objectives in the region. President Aquino of the Philippines deserve credit for his navigation of the dangerous waters between the US and China. We should all expect this situation to remain fluid over the coming years, hopefully ending with a renewed emphasis of military cooperation between the United States and its former Commonwealth.

Assange does Obama (and his foreign policy) in.




The recent Wiki-leaks dump of over a quarter of a millions diplomatic cables has done much to shed light on the foreign policy of the Obama Administration, and in doing so has shown the world what a shambles it is. No, Wiki-leaks is not going to seriously undermine US diplomatic efforts around the world, and no, Wiki-leaks is not going to bring all of geopolitics to a halt, as its head Julian Assange suggested, but it is a much bigger deal than much of the American media has made it out to be.

The Obama Administration’s soft line on North Korea and Iran, of which the latter was promised ‘talks without preconditions’ by then candidate Obama, has been significantly undermined by the making public of diplomatic cables indicating that North Korea was, in fact, selling missile technology to Tehran. Making matters worse for the President’s agenda was the revelation that these sales were made possible by Chinese cooperation, and that Beijing served as the transfer site for said technology. Iranian-North Korean cooperation to counter the United States certainly gives weight and credibility to President Bush’s oft-decried ‘Axis of Evil’ comments (A previous Wiki-leaks release also lent credibility to the former President’s Iraqi WMD claims, casting light on the results of American post-war efforts to unearth evidence pertaining to Saddam Hussein’s WMD capability).

Most of all, the most recent round of Wiki-leaks indicates that Obama’s top foreign policy priorities: The START treaty, the expansion of Israeli settlements, and climate change, are all woefully out of touch with reality. Cables released thus far indicate that Central Europe is on edge over increasing Russian belligerence, that the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, see Iran, not Israel as the greatest threat to security in the region, and that American efforts to combat ‘climate change’ are in fact just an attempt to assert political power over other nations. These discrepancies indicate that Obama’s entire worldview is based off a fundamental misunderstanding of how the world works, and what our top security threats actually are.

Though critics of the Obama administration’s foreign policy find Assange’s actions absolutely reprehensible, and by-and-large believe that he ought to be brought to justice over this attack on the United States. This sentiment has remained constant over the last year as Assange has released documents from US military records regarding the patterns of small-unit military operations that increasingly the vulnerability of our troops in the field. This most recent release, however, and drawn severe criticism from Obama’s political allies as well. In an era where there is precious little both sides of the American political divide can find little to agree upon, the case of Wiki-leaks provides a common enemy for both parties. It’s a shame, however, that it takes a pasty white “guy with a laptop,” to borrow an expression from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, to find a foreign policy foe which liberals and conservatives can agree to deal with harshly.

Is time running out for North Korea?




The recent shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong by North Korean Artillery has once more brought the world’s focus to the divided peninsula. The South Korean response to these reprehensible attacks has been highly re stained. Public and political outcry over the weak-willed response on behalf of the South Korean Military led to the resignation of ROK Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, as well as the establishment of new Rules of Engagement for ROK military forces providing a greater ability to respond to North Korean attacks with greater force..With political and public attitudes in the South shifting towards a more forceful tone, and the corresponding changes in the Rules of Engagement, there is much evidence to paint the picture that South Korean patience for North Korean agitation is rapidly running out.

The Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, relayed such messages of dwindling patience this weekend. Admiral Blair, who had just recently returned from South Korea, predicted that future North Korean attacks of a similar scale will be met with ROK military response up to but not included the commencement of full-scale war with the North.

This trend towards a more stern military response to North Korean aggression is a departure from a sentiment of engagement and rapprochement with the North among the people and politicians of the South. Talk of unification and of ending the US military presence in their country have ebbed and flowed over the years in South Korean politics, but the recent uptick in aggression on the part of the North has brought such talk to a halt. With the aging Kim Jong Il approaching death, the coming ascension of 25 year old Kim Jong-un as the next ‘Dear Leader’, and possible Chinese political abandonment due to the increasingly cost of covering for Pyongyang, the Hermit Kingdom is rapidly approaching a point at which its geopolitical position in untenable.

Famine, growing societal disillusionment, and a non-existent economy have left it increasingly difficult to support the North Korean armed forced. Though their numbers rank it as the 4th largest miltiary in the world, questions remain as to just how effective PROK forces would be in any military engagement. Damage assessment from the shelling of Yeonpyeong indicates both a lack of supply and technical knowhow among North Korean forces. If this small example is indicative of a larger decay North Korean miltiary capability, then the last leg to stand on for the People’s Republic of North Korea has broken.

Perhaps it is best to view the decay of North Korea through the lens of the collapse of the regimes of the Warsaw pact in the late 1980s. In this instance, it was the collective will on behalf of both American and Soviet leadership that prevented an outbreak of hostilities as communism fell. Should North Korea enter a similar death spiral, it is incredibly difficult to imagine such an act of good faith on behalf of any North Korean leadership to go out with a whimper as opposed to a bang. It will take a concerted effort on the part of South Korea, China, and the United States to manage the collapse of North Korea. South Korea will need to take the lead on such an effort, as they have the most to lose, and gain, from the death rattle of one of history’s worst regimes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nuclear Sharks


Nuclear weapons have been many things: bombs, missiles, shoulder launched projectiles. Each is designed to counter another threat, deter a new kind of attack. So what about nuclear torpedoes? And nuclear mines? Juicy gossip from the naughty North Korea proposes that the hermit kingdom is well on its way to developing such technology. North Korea’s lagging manufacturing capabilities aside, let’s consider the purpose of such deterrence measures.


First, the nuclear torpedo. South Korea and the United States individually and together outman and outgun North Korea’s navy. Rather than invest billions to catch up (which would likely involve training AND feeding people) North Korea can close the margin with nuclear weapons. Torpedoes can be launched from ships, planes, and submersibles and target seaborne vessels. Unless North Korea specifies which delivery systems utilize nuke torpedoes, the U.S and S.K. see each enemy unit as a potential nuclear delivery vehicle supposedly limiting movement and engagement. In this scenario, entire fleets moving in close quarters remain in danger not just of a nuke’s blast radius but also from tsunami like waves. To mitigate potential damage to its own vehicles and, given proximity to North Korean coasts, to its fishing cooperatives N.K. would profit from fitting its torpedoes with tactical nukes.

But North Korea isn’t known for its practicality and efficiency. Given its numerous missile failures and small nuclear arsenal, any bomb in a torpedo is a good bomb. If the vague promise of a nuke in the water is enough to deter U.S. naval presence or aggression against the N.K. navy then the bomb has served its purpose (if it exists).


A nuclear mine would serve a lesser purpose but an effective one all the same. It wouldn’t be able to deter aggression against a navy but it would make trespassing more dangerous. It would be akin to an ornery neighbor putting bouncing betties in his yard to keep bratty kids out.


If North Korea can realize both of these ideas then it will turn itself into a giant nuclear landmine. This will only serve to make future diplomacy more difficult for incoming leaders isolating it from what little trade it has with Japan and making sea-trade with China arduous. Further, if and when it falls N.K. will leave behind a legacy of torture, not just to its people, but to those de-nuclearizing the ocean.

Sudan's Chance for Peace


With our collective obsession of Wikileaks and North Korea, the upcoming vote for succession in southern Sudan next month almost slipped right past us. The US has relied on special envoys throughout the 27 year conflict in the hopes that the international community can achieve collective cooperation to resolve this brutal civil war. What the efforts of diplomacy achieved was the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 between the predominantly Muslim north and Christian/Animist south which was intended to lay the groundwork for the referendum vote to take place on January 9, 2011, and to hopefully re-shift efforts towards addressing the Darfur issue. Since the CPA was signed though, very little peace has existed.

Initially, progress seemed to be on track but the ceasefire was broken in 2006 as several rebel groups rejected the compromise already in place. The peace agreement did not quell the violence and in the five years since the CPA was signed, Sudanese entities have remained in constant conflict leaving no one, including peacekeepers and civilians, immune to the violence.

In addition to peace agreement violations, UN documents recently revealed that 18 different types of ammunition were used by government forces in Darfur against peacekeepers and rebel groups. 12 were made in China after 2009, five years after the UN arms embargo was put into place to restrict foreign weaponry from finding its way into Darfur.

The autonomous southern government is guilty of violations as well as Wikileaks and Somali pirates have teamed up recently to uncover the secret arms deal between Ukraine and southern Sudan. Department of State cables showed that the Bush Administration knew about Ukrainian arms shipments through Kenya that included T-72 tanks and rocket launchers but urged all parties involved to keep it quiet. While wary of allowing an arms race to occur in Sudan, the US did not prohibit the transaction since northern Sudan was doing the same thing. They also urged Ukraine to take stronger security measures after one of its freighters carrying 37 T-72 tanks was captured by Somali pirates. After further consideration of these transactions by the Obama Administration, threats of sanctions against Kenya and Ukraine came out to put an end to it. To justify the threat, Obama stated that while Sudan is still united, he cannot support any arms infiltration as it is still on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. To make this even stranger, the administration has offered to possibly remove Sudan from that list as long as Bashir allows the referendum to take place peacefully.

Diplomatic negotiators have been able to overlook these violations in the name of peace instead of allowing either side to back out of the peace accord. The problem is that these violations contribute to the pessimism surrounding the hopes for the violence to end once the referendum takes place. With international attention on the region at the moment, things will likely remain calm. But Khartoum continues offensive operations to this day and has gained concessions from the US simply by agreeing to do what it has already agreed to do. President Bashir’s defiance in the face of his arrest warrant has only strengthened the notion that his actions can go unpunished as President Obama did not include compliance with the ICC as a part of Sudan’s removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

So what did the CPA accomplish and will Khartoum allow the south to exist in peace? If the events that took place after the CPA was signed are any indication, there is little reason to believe peace will last.

Pearl Harbor, WikiLeaks, and Strategic Surprise


69 Years ago last week, the Japanese Navy surprised strategically the United States in their attack on Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii. That date that will live in infamy along with October 6, 1973, and September 11, 2001 are among the most critical examples of strategic surprise studied for improving national security and establishing effective national intelligence. Some argue that these events show that no matter what measures a country can place in effect, strategic surprise is inevitable. When considering strategic surprise, one cannot only consider the intentions of the attackers, but also consider one’s own intentions, and how well the enemy understands them. WikiLeaks’ airing of the State Department’s cables achieved the desired effect of the rogue website and its founder and, when taken into context with previous strategic surprise, constitutes espionage. Hopefully, the Executive Branch of the US Government will not react to the espionage with measures that will lead to another strategic surprise.

The weirdest source of conspiracy about Pearl Harbor…Michael Jackson?? You have to look at the uber-scary painting on the right.

OK…Back to reality: Pearl Harbor, the Yom Kippur War and 9/11 share commonalities to include commissions by the US and Israel to investigate the causes of their surprises. Pearl Harbor included many, the most comprehensive of which was the “Joint [Congressional] Committee on the Investigation into the Pearl Harbor Attack.” The Israelis enacted the Agranat Commission to investigate the failures to predict the Egyptian and Syrian attack beginning the Yom Kippur (or October) War. Finally, most know of the 9/11 Commission and Report and their effect. Studying the reports will show two critical factors of national intelligence – understanding of intentions (both yours and the enemies), and intelligence sharing among departments and communities.

Wikileaks’ releasing the State Department cables revealed to potential adversaries the United States’ and other countries’ intentions in many different arenas. While some intentions are well-known, known de facto, or common sense, having them on paper eliminates ambiguity for our/their enemies. Those intentions that were meant to be kept a secret are no longer…enough said. People who say “no big deal” or “we already knew this stuff” fail to understand how simple understandings of intentions can change things. For instance, in the October War, the Israeli Defense Forces believed they could predict Egyptian actions because Egypt would have to attack the Israeli Air Forces to prevent the embarrassment of the 1967 war (a “no duh” statement, one would think). Knowing that, the Egyptians merely moved anti-aircraft systems to the Sinai border to protect the ground forces during their surprise. This is the type of information that could be released on the lower “Secret” level documents such as the cables, as opposed to Top Secret stuff.

Each report shares a common thread regarding the sharing of information. The Joint investigation Committee commented on the ineffective transfer of intelligence gathered from MAGIC transcripts from Washington to Hawaii. In fact, the congressional commission reversed earlier claims that the ground commanders in Hawaii were derelict in duty. The Agranat Commission identified stove-piping and too much centralization of influence in the Israeli Military Intelligence community. The 9/11 Commission found the same and instituted similar changes to the others.

The most likely, important, unfortunate, and lasting effect of the Wikileaked documents will be mistrust among departments and countries. As the respective agencies ratchet down on controlling intelligence by means of bureaucratic controls and other inconveniences, information sharing will bog down and intelligence processes will slow. This will directly affect the targeting cycle on the tactical level, and could possibly lead to the next “inevitable” strategic surprise.

These criteria demonstrate that Wikileaks’ actions amount to espionage against the United States. The website’s actions directly and indirectly affect US National Security on tactical and strategic levels. Julian Assange and his conspirators should be considered as enemy spies and treated as such. The soldier, if found guilty, should be tried for treason and espionage. Each should be made an example of, to include the death penalty for the soldier.