Sunday, September 30, 2012

X 37-B and the ambiguity of space systems

The X 37-B remains an intriguing mystery for space advocates and analysts, with the US Air Force remaining tight-lipped about the precise missions and capabilities that the drone-spacecraft (essentially a small, crew-less version of the decommissioned space shuttle). As the X-37 prepares for a third launch in late October an assessment of America's most publicly secretive drone seems in order.

Fortunately some proposed missions can be more or less ruled out. Most notably the X-37, much like its larger crewed cousin, remains a deeply inefficient satellite launch system. A payload bay measuring just over 2.1 meters on a side indicates extremely meager capacity for mission-specific cargo. Although the Pentagon would love nothing more than to launch constellations of communications and imaging satellites into orbit on short notice to support troops in the field, using a straight-forward rocket system remains cheaper and potentially more reliable than any reusable platform. After all, why waste a minimum of $90 million on a  rocket lifting the wings and fuselage of a reentry vehicle to place disposable systems in orbit? Tracking potentially hostile space systems in orbit also seems rather outlandish, given that dedicated satellites could perform the job as well or better and at lower cost.

More likely the X-37 represents a (very expensive) R&D exercise. That doesn't make this particular space-drone uninteresting, however. The unusual conditions of operating a highly maneuverable satellite without a human crew will likely lead to interesting communications systems or an artificial intelligence system capable of handling ambiguous but risky environments for short periods of time. The lessons learned from either intermittent or maintained control in a complex electro-magnetic environment will likely generate important lessons for DoD planners envisioning drone operations in environments less permissive than Iraq or Pakistan's FATA.

Even more interesting are some of the potential missions other than satellite launch. Currently NASA has been exploring potential routes for refueling satellites or deep-space missions in space with orbital fuel depots, but the military and intelligence communities may find NASA's timetable somewhat lacking. The X-37 could provide some interesting capabilities to those communities, potentially restocking surveillance satellites with fuel or carrying out repairs to reduce the need to replace spacecraft that are expensive to build (see page 44) well as to launch. These capabilities could also, of course, provide future mission planners with proven satellite interface capabilities that other other space powers would prefer the United States not possess. Given the necessity of space capabilities to US military forces and the US economy and anti-satellite capability that doesn't fill low-Earth orbit with clouds of debris holds much more promise than blasting offending satellites out of the sky with high-powered rockets.

This dual nature of the X-37 B isn't unique to just that one system, of course. All space capabilities necessarily have multiple uses; cheap launches make satellites expendable, debris-removal systems become satellite-removal systems, GPS guides tourists as well as cruise missiles, and reliable large-scale rockets can of course become nuclear-warhead bearing missiles with distressing ease. Nonetheless the flexible and uninhabited X-37 B could herald a new age of ambiguous space vehicles.

Cyberthreats and Actor Opacity

Over the past week, a series of denial of service (DOS) attacks hit six major American banks.  While DOS attacks do not affect the integrity of secure systems, DOS attacks provide a greater threat than a minor nuisance; such attacks demonstrate the proliferation of methods available to non-state-actors (and occasionally state-backed actors) to wage asymmetric attacks on unconventional targets.

A denial of service attack relies on overwhelming a website’s ability to process requests for access. A successful attack effectively causes the website in question to become unavailable to further requests. While such attacks have long been the trademark of loose organizations such as Anonymous, responsibility for the attacks has been claimed by a relatively new group called the Izz ad-Din al Qassam Cyber Fighters, ostensibly in response to the viral video trailer, “The Innocence of Muslims” which caused a surge of protest and violence in the Middle East in early September.

There is currently dispute as to whether the attacks were independently organized by the Cyber Fighters, or whether the attacks were organized with state backing. Because the attacks require either massive computational power or the coordination and collaboration of many users, the Cyber Fighters attack would seem to require the former, due to the unprecedented size of the attack. Indeed there has been considerable suspicion that the group may not even be involved at all in the attacks. Rather, Senator Joe Lieberman announced Wednesday in a C-SPAN interview that the attacks were sponsored in some form by Iran as retaliation for the increasing pressure of economic sanctions.

What is perhaps most interesting in this latest round of attacks is its asymmetric nature. Regardless if organized independently by a group motivated by an anti-Islamic video, or by a state in retaliation for economic sanctions, the group responsible is difficult to trace, which challenges the ability of the United States to counter such attacks.  As the United States attempts to boost its cyberwarfare capabilities both defensive and offensive, the plausible deniability afforded by DOS attacks will present an on-going challenge in an emerging battlefield in which there are many actors and motivations.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Territorial Integrity vs. Self-Determination

The Falkland/Malvinas Islands sovereignty dispute is creating some new concerns for the United States.    Thirty years ago, Argentina invaded the islands claiming title to the territory after Spain granted Argentina independence.  The British dispute that title and claim that they have been in continuous control of the islands since 1833.  And indeed, all of the Islanders are of British decent and have been there for numerous generations.

That dispute mirrors another one more closely linked to U.S. interest -- Taiwan.  Last year the People's Republic of China publicly endorsed the Argentine position on the Malvinas Islands.  Jiang Shusheng, President Hu Jintao's special envoy and vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, said

“China will continue to support the Argentine claim of sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas . . . . [S]olidarity with Argentina on the Malvinas issue is an invariable position of China’s foreign policy.”

The British government is calling a referendum early next year that they claim will settle the sovereignty issue through the principle of self-determination.  Argentina, however, emphasizes the principle of territorial integrity -- because the Islands are so near its border, Argentina should control the territory.  And they have a lot of support: Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with associate members Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru (if not all of Latin America) along with China, Syria, Tunisia, Congo and Russia.  Argentina is making a renewed campaign to work through the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization.

Compounding the issue is the recent discovery of oil and natural gas near the Islands (some exploration wells were in undisputed Argentine territory).  Falkland Oil and Gas discovered up to 25 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Loligo field.  The United Kingdom would like to export from the Falklands to the Asian market, which could be more lucrative given the Japanese decision to move away from nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.  Argentina has been aided by South American countries who have blocked maritime travel for ships flying the Falkland flag, which could make it impossible for the U.K. to export natural gas from the Islands.

The United States is also quickly becoming involved in the Falkland oil industry.  Falkland Oil and Gas recently sold 35% of its licenses other than to the Loligo fields to Texas-based Noble Energy.  And a joint Venezuela-Argentina oil exploration is adding a whole new dimension by including the vehemently anti-American Chavez regime in the Falklands dispute:

More from the Telegraph:

The United States risks being dragged into the growing political row over the Falkland Islands’ oil industry, after Texas-based Noble Energy became the first American firm to sign an exploration deal in the disputed territories. 
In a sign of the heightened tensions in the area, Noble’s deal with Falkland Oil and Gas Limited (FOGL) came as Venezuela said it would team up with Argentina to search for oil in waters neighbouring the Falklands.
Analysts said it was significant that Noble hailed from America - whose administration has refused to endorse British sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. Argentina claims sovereignty of the islands it calls Las Malvinas and has threatened to sue oil explorers.

1.  What does the United States value more, Territorial Integrity or Self-Determination?
2.  With that much international support what could Argentina do to gain leverage?
3.  What would the United States do, if anything, to help settle the issue?

Here's an interesting video that the Argentine field hockey team "secretly" filmed on the Islands at the end saying "To compete on British soil, we train on Argentine soil."

Here's some more background on this situation:
What does the international community think? 
Opinion is mainly sympathetic to Buenos Aires, backing calls for negotiations, although not necessarily endorsing its claim over the islands. 
Last December, regional trading bloc Mercosur, which groups Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, showed its support by closing ports to ships flying the Falklands flag. 
China ratified its backing for Argentina's sovereignty claim last December, reciprocating Buenos Aires' support of Beijing's claim to Taiwan as a province. 
The European Union and the US say they recognize the "de facto UK administration of the Falklands/Malvinas", but take no position regarding the issue of sovereignty, which they say must be settled by the UK and Argentina. 
Russia limits its position to urging inter-governmental dialogue. However, some Russian commentators have suggested that Moscow should choose a side. 
"Latin America is a very important region for our country in economic, political and strategic (in the event of a sharp deterioration in Russian-American relations) terms," the country's international radio, The Voice of Russia, said in February. 
Sovereignty Timeline:
1765 - Britain claimed the Falkland Islands
1774 - Britain withdrew its settlement but kept its claim to sovereignty.
1820 - Newly-independent Argentina claimed sovereignty.
1833 - Britain established control over the islands in support of its own earlier claim to sovereignty.
1965 - The UN designated the territory as a "colonial problem".
1982 - Argentine troops set foot on the islands starting the Falklands War.
2009 - Britain rejected a request by Argentina for talks on the future sovereignty over the islands.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The dangers of diplomacy

On September 11th, 2012, exactly eleven years to the date of the events that forever changed the dynamics of the world, not to mention altered the security of the United States and its long history as an “untouchable” country, the United States of America suffered another blow with implications that affected its national security.

With his death, J. Christopher Stevens became only the eighth US Ambassador to die while serving, and the first since 1988. His death came after what appeared to be a series of well executed attacks on the US consular office in Benghazi. At first, the attacks were declared to be a spontaneous response that created deadly results after the translation into Arabic of the trailer of the homemade film, “Innocence of Muslims.”

Reports on whether the attacks were pre-meditated have been conflicting, but regadless of the truth, several issues lie at stake here. First, is the failure of the local government and their inability to prevent the attack from growing to the magnitude it did. It will never come to fruition whether or not the attack could have been shut down in its planning stages, if it was indeed pre-planned. But it appears that Libyan forces were unable to gain control of the situation until after casualties had taken place. Further support from the American side was sent in from Tripoli, but even the back-up suffered hits, after the deaths of two security officers.

This has once again brought light to the dangers that diplomats face overseas and how they are sent into the most dangerous situations. In his book, "Diplomacy and the American Democracy," David Newsom writes about how terrorism has changed the face of American diplomacy and has increased the need for more security detail for the diplomats. But he also writes that even though diplomats realize the perils their job could come into contact with, they also know that they cannot do their job from inside a fortress or riding around in an armored car day in and day out.

The other issue that can be brought of out this situation is a heightened awareness to the role played by extremists. If these attacks were in response to the YouTube video, the cause and the effect of these events were by extremists. The man who uploaded the trailer, although American, was not a representative of the average American, nor the government. And the perpetrators of the attack, were extremist Muslims, who again, were not representative of their religion nor the Libyan government.

Questions to ponder:
1. Will American diplomacy continue to be in harm's way and what, if any measures can be done to curb it?
2. What is the role of extremists and how do you forsee them continuing to play a crucial role in foreign relations?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sino-Japanese Island Spat

The disagreement between China and Japan over five very small islands in the East China Sea again reared its head on September 11th, when the Japanese government purchased three islands that it did not already own from their private owner for the price of ¥2 billion ($26 million). China responded with offensive posturing, as we discussed during this week’s class, sending patrol vessels into the region. The Japanese purchase, which was made over a vocal Chinese opposition, stirred up a number of protests throughout Chinese cities including Beijing, Shenzhen, and Luoyang, that have continued into this week.

These protests were the topic of discussion in a recent article, “The Dangers of a China-Japan Trade War” (The Diplomat), that outlined some of the more ominous economic consequences that may result from the squabble over the islands.  According to the article, angry crowds have attacked and destroyed several Japanese branded products during the protests, and companies have closed facilities in the area. Also troubling, as author James Parker suggests, is the consumer boycott of Japanese products that some Chinese are calling for.

Of course, formal economic sanctions of the Japanese by the Chinese are a possibility (and considering that China accounts for nearly 20% of Japan’s export this could severely damage the Japanese economy). However, while not impossible, these sanctions are complicated by WTO obligations and can cast an unfavorable light on the Chinese. China, because of the power of its State Owned Enterprises, could also call for an unofficial boycott, which will do considerable damage while dodging those pesky WTO obligations.

Nevertheless, trade rarely flows one way. Any sanction on the part of the Chinese will almost certainly result in a tit-for-tat reaction by the Japanese. The ensuing “boycott war” will damage both sides, and might work to dissuade companies from countries outside China and Japan from investing in China.

Negative effects on trade, of course, are just one potential consequence of the dispute.  While the United States has claimed that it will remain neutral in the disagreement, we’ll see how long that will last.  The BBC reported that on the 18th that  US Ambassador Gary Locke’s car was attacked by protesters in Beijing while they chanted anti-America slogans and assertions that the islands were Chinese territory as they attempted to prevent the car from entering the embassy.

Earlier this week, the United States also sealed a new missile deal with Japan. The announcement that the United States would be sending another advanced radar system to the Japanese, ostensibly to bolster Japanese defense against North Korea, has predictably worried China. The Chinese, despite overtures by the U.S., are likely to see Washington’s growing missile presence in the area as a threat to its own interests and not the defense of Japan that it claims to be.

The issue is complicated, potential U.S. involvement notwithstanding. Japan and China are facing their own unique internal complications: nationalist agitation is present on both sides and Japan is about to face a general election. The opposition hopeful for the next prime minister is the son of Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara. Ishihara, who has been described as a “crusty, China-baiting nationalist” launched a campaign for the islands to be bought by the Tokyo metropolitan government in April.  Japan’s recent purchase of the islands by current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda could have been meant to foil Ishihara’s plan. Noda seems to be trying to soothe tensions with the Chinese, as he’s pledged to keep the Japanese from setting foot on the islands—but the probability remains that China will see this as an attempt by Japan to increase their already extensive maritime scope, and not to diffuse a potentially explosive situation.

Class, what do you think? What is the likelihood and what are the consequences of potential U.S. involvement in the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands? How will Japan and China continue to address the dispute, taking into consideration the upcoming Japanese general elections?

Additionally, do you believe that the Sino-Japanese trade relationship be enough to keep the conflict from spreading or violence from breaking out?  Parker, at the end of his recent article in The Diplomat, ominously points out that: "strong economic relationships before WWI didn't stop the march to war." Or, as he hopes, will cooler heads prevail?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Diplomacy is inherently unsafe

Clearly the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens has been a sober topic of conversation considering many of us are studying to enter that profession. And the question of security of U.S. embassies (and consulates) was sticking point in class the other day. The consensus seemed to be that, however sensitive we are to criticism to the contrary, the U.S. is providing adequate security at our diplomatic outposts. But the reality is that all of our diplomatic missions are beholden to the security apparatus of the host country, however deficient they may be.

It would be impossible to staff each embassy with a division of Marines or guarantee U.S.-provided security. The host countries are presumed to fulfill that responsibility. That's part of the diplomacy compact. A reliable source explained it this way:  We have 23 Marines at the embassy in Cairo--7 on staff at any given time--to protect a building employing 1000 people. The Marines are there to slow down angry mobs (or better yet, to diffuse their anger). When really angry people are scaling really tall embassy walls, shooting one of them would only exacerbate the problem.

The United States recently sent two Navy ships to the coast of Libya in the wake of last week's attacks, ostensibly to provide added security. But more Marines and the threat of Tomahawk missiles will not prevent attacks; it might even provoke more.  

Diplomats are selected for their ability to dodge dangerous situations without resorting to the use of force. To the extent that force is needed it must come from host governments. Otherwise the utility of diplomacy or state collaboration, mutual trust, and the diplomatic agenda would be undermined.

In the wake of the tragedy in Libya, Sudan turned away 50 U.S. Marines en route to provide added security saying, "Sudan is able to protect the diplomatic missions in Khartoum and the state is committed to protecting its guests in the diplomatic corps." Diplomats live in inherently dangerous situations. Like it or not, diplomats have to trust their own instincts and rely on the security provided by host countries to prevent similar tragedies.

F-35: How the Pentagon and Its Partners are Pushing Technology and Their Purse

Foreign Policy published a recent article about the emergence of the Pentagon's latest fighter jet, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), and we are able to get a glimpse at the largest weapons purchase in the Pentagon's history and the inherent obstacles within this project.

The F-35 jet is the latest in the JSF series with an expected price tag (life long, maintenance and fuel) of more than $1.5 trillion. Why is this JSF so expensive? Well, the F-35 is packing the most high tech software to ever be installed in a JSF (more than 10 million lines of software code), a complex maintenance system to protect classified information called ALIS (Automatic Logistics Information System), a helmet that displays all of the jet's vital flight and combat information on its visor and night vision capability, and possibly other features not mentioned in the FP article. Overall, the F-35 is a behemoth because the software partners, the international developers and partners, and the US Defense Department officials all add layers of complexity to the project's software and oversight.

The complexity and difficulty of the F-35 bogs down the actual implementation of JSF because problems arise: 1.) the helmet's software designed by Vision Systems International doesn't display information correctly, 2.) ALIS's sensitive information is vulnerable to hacking because it lacks proper security software, and 3.) the contract negotiations are dragged on by Lockheed Martin, JPO, and stakeholders, thus, exacerbating the program's execution and cost, according to JSF program manager Air Force Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan.

Though there is no clear cut solution, Maj. Gen. Bogdan will not ask (Congress) for additional funds and time. The F-35 project's immense obstacles will only dissipate with greater efficiency in almost every aspect of its production, as ambiguously stated by the general.

Questions for the class: is the price tag of the F-35 justified for its approximate lifespan of 20-25 years, how can the Pentagon be more efficient with its JSF research/development/production, and what other military investment options would ensure the US's air superiority and strategic effectiveness?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

US Military Exporting More Arms Abroad

This post hopes to continue the discussion from Monday's class about the the hypothetical use of a Chinese nuclear weapon on Okinawa in the possibility of a Taiwanese conflict. Though the post doesn't directly deal with Chinese nuclear arms, it will discuss the focus of Asian-Pacific military strategies in light of US military budget cuts.

In the article, "US Seeks Foreign Arm Sales" (The Diplomat), J. Michael Cole tells the reader how the Pentagon plans to deal with the hundreds of billions of dollars in budget cuts by selling more arms abroad. One of the arms, in particular, is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs/drones). UAVs and the accompanying software have played a key role in the US's military operations in conflicts zones, as well as the development and use for homeland security. The foreign arms sales provide an unique opportunity for allies of the US, especially in the Asia-Pacific realm where China's military investments pose a threat to allies such as Japan, South Korea, and even the Republic of China (Taiwan).

It is important to note the future sales of military technology does not surrender the ultimate control of the Pentagon to its allies but extends the sphere of military influence and competition to a growing Chinese military. (Also, the software and satellite use for UAVs is still within US military control.) Aside from the control of military technology, Pentagon has already seen the profits:

... According to the Congressional Research Service, U.S. arms sales last year experienced a threefold increase over 2010, reaching U.S. $66.3 billion, the largest single-year total arms sale value in U.S. history, and accounting for over 75 percent of the global arms market. Asia in particular, whose defense spending this year surpassed that of Europe for the first time, will prove an attractive market to U.S. firms. Several countries there are in the process of modernizing their forces, a process that has accelerated recently amid rising tensions with China in several overlapping areas in the East and South China Sea. It is also the one region that so far has managed to weather the global financial downturn, meaning that governments in the region might be somewhat less reluctant to loosen the purse strings to acquire weapons from the U.S.

Overall, the US financially benefits from selling arms to its allies and gain additional military security in a region where China is the growing focus of military and economic power. Though a new arms race is a point of concern for the US Congress, it is unlikely Asia-Pacific countries will pursue such a policy. So, in effect, I believe the US military and its allies have a great opportunity to benefit from the sales of US military technology i.e. drones, and the joint security from this technology in the Asia-Pacific region.

Class, what are your thoughts on the sales of drone technology with US allies? Will this help secure the stability of a region, create an arms race, or destabilize everything (because China bombed Okinawa)?

Thank you for your thoughts and discussion.