» Future Threats Speak Victorian, Think Pagan Wed, 14 Nov 2012 22:05:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Satirizing Home Grown Terrorists Tue, 16 Feb 2010 12:20:47 +0000 A brief clip from the film “The Four Lions,” which presents four bumbling would be home grown jihadists in the UK.

Via Political Warfare

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A dangerous world; optimism in a time of pessimism Wed, 27 Jan 2010 23:53:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]> While I’m a fan and admirer of the journalist responsible for the theme of this blog, I am not a practitioner of his self proclaimed ethos, “pessimistic realism.” When asked during an interview for our first ever pod cast to sum up what I thought the near future of global affairs entailed I answered “Unknown,” and asserted my sense of cautious optimism.

On any given day it’s easy to give over to the pessimistic vision of what’s going on around us. We are inundated by media reports rife with live reports depicting either the lowest points of humanity or the greatest suffering of humanity. In just the last few days news reports informed us of the fiery crash of an airliner out of Lebanon (breathlessly claiming that “sabotage,” despite the claims of the Lebanese government, was hardly off the table,) a synchronized series of explosions directed at hotels in Baghdad had killed at least twenty and of course the media’s darling of the year; Haiti’s being smashed from abjectly failed state to that of, well, no state.

Combine this with the likes of a decade long promise of apocalyptic climate change, the pervasive experts promising the next existential terrorist threat, the ever present promise of looming economic ruin and it’s no small reason that we look into our televisions, listen to our car radios and conclude that the near future of humanity is, as succinctly stated by my learned colleague; “fucked.”

So I read, with particular interest , this piece by Thomas Barnett titled “New Rules: The Fallacy of an Increasingly Dangerous World.”

The meat of the article expresses exactly what the title entails. As bad as things are we, as a planetary collective, are forging a legacy quite contrary to what pessimists might paint:

<blockquote>In 1950 the planet consisted of 2.5 billion souls, while today our global population approaches 7 billion. Likewise, the number of U.N. member states has roughly doubled to nearly 200, meaning a greater number of possible configurations for war. In short, despite far more bodies and far more states, wars have nonetheless become less frequent and less lethal, while we as a planet have grown stunningly more interconnected and thus interdependent. Even the three biggest conflicts of the last decade — Iraq, Sudan and Congo — involved, at most, 2 percent of the world’s population.

That amazing trajectory now places us far closer to Immanuel Kant’s vision of “perpetual peace” than to Thomas Hobbes’ “state of nature.”</blockquote>

As I stated above, I’m not a “pessimistic realist.” While I’m loath to accept being pigeon-holed into some neat category either politically or intellectually I could live with the label “pragmatic optimist.” I agree that we are “far closer” to Kant’s perpetual peace than Hobbes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” but would argue that we’re only beginning to move away from Hobbes’ “war of all against all” in too many areas of the world. That’s a beginning that I’m much more willing to embrace than the pessimist’s embrace of the “beginning of the end.” We’re a fallible species and guilty of our own self induced eras of violence and ignorance but on the whole we’ve maintained a remarkable ability to advance. And I believe we’ll continue that advance.

I’d be curious to see what our own readers think in terms of just how dangerous our world is and just what their positions are regarding the overarching progress (or regress as it may be) of humanity.

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American COIN in America Thu, 10 Dec 2009 20:35:26 +0000 Continue reading ]]> For a while now I’ve considered the plausibility or, perhaps, inevitability of insurgent tactics witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan making their way west and finding a new home in the violent counter culture that is the American gangland. Thankfully we have yet to see the drive by shooting evolve into a Los Angeles road side bombing. Thankfully the ethos of the modern “gangbanger” has, at it’s center, a hefty amount of narcissism and so the suicide bomber remains a very remote possibility.

In considering the possibility of native criminals entertaining the tactics of insurgents abroad, I’d also given thought to the “what if” concept of American law enforcement agencies practicing some form of counter insurgency strategy. It turns out the extreme environment of road side bombs and suicide bombers isn’t necessary. Rampant gang related crime has driven one Californian police force to adopt the methods and assistance from some Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran counter-insurgents.

<blockquote>In the space of 11 days this year, seven people were murdered in Salinas. Each killing, like the record 25 homicides the previous year, spilled from the gang warfare that this summer pushed the homicide rate in the city of 140,000 to three times that of Los Angeles. Residents retreated indoors at night, and Mayor Dennis Donohue affirmed his decision to seek help from an unlikely source: the U.S. military.

Since February, combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been advising Salinas police on counterinsurgency strategy, bringing lessons from the battlefield to the meanest streets in an American city.</blockquote>

I’m of two mindsets regarding this evolution of law enforcement. In one respect, I see it as a remarkably adaptive effort in domestic law enforcement’s effort to combat rampant gang related crime. On the other hand, I consider this another step toward the militarization of American law enforcement. This shift toward a more militant stance is and has been incremental in varying degrees; from the glaring example of no knock warrants to the more inconspicuous, psychological effects of police attire (specifically boots; sounds ridiculous but think about it for a moment.)

I don’t envision a near future America being dominated by a militocracy. We’re too socially dynamic and generally rebellious to allow that. But I do fear (and yes it’s an age old fear) a gradual allowance of Constitutional privilege to law enforcement for a return of the perception of safety.

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Pirate Stock Exchange Open for Business Wed, 02 Dec 2009 13:34:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]> For those still peddling the line that piracy is carried out by poor, starving Africans, victimized by evil European fisherman, this article not only provides evidence to the contrary, but speaks to the advanced nature of it in both a business and social sense.

It is a lucrative business that has drawn financiers from the Somali diaspora and other nations — and now the gangs in Haradheere have set up an exchange to manage their investments.

[...] “Four months ago, during the monsoon rains, we decided to set up this stock exchange. We started with 15 ‘maritime companies’ and now we are hosting 72. Ten of them have so far been successful at hijacking,” Mohammed said. “The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials … we’ve made piracy a community activity.”
[...] “The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and our public schools.”

Reading the article, I almost think I’m reading Global Guerillas. As pirates continue to extend their reach offshore, and Western nations continue to needlessly devise ridiculous non-lethal anti-pirate weapons, despite the fact that the problem of piracy was solved centuries ago with firearms, it would seem naive to believe a few semi-coordinated naval ships unwilling to actually use lethal force will solve the problem. If anything, I’d wager that piracy will actually increase due to the international naval presence as that will drive up the profit margin for successful raids, similar to the failed American War on Drugs where the DEA serves only to maintain and ensure the profitibility of drugs.

Lastly, given a previous Wired article discussion of the international side of the business, this blogger wonders whether such a new “stock exchange” will further internationalize the business past the traditional diaspora connections and secondly, whether this could be an early attempt, or even precedent for similar “black stock exchanges” in other illicit businesses such as drugs, weapons, people and other smuggling for example. If decentralization and internationalization are key driving forces in crime and terrorism, it would seem that “publicly traded criminal enterprise” may be a logical extension. Readers?

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Don’t execute Khalid Sheik Mohammed Sat, 14 Nov 2009 15:48:17 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’m trying to understand US Attorney General Holder’s decision to try 9/11 “mastermind,” Khalid Sheik Muhammed, in a domestic court of law. Proponents state that KSM will be given a more fair trial in a federal court than what he might receive via a military tribunal. Of course given the fact that this summons will have him facing a jury of New York City residents I’m going to tip-toe out on a limb and suggest that impartiality within the jury pool will be about as helpful in getting him a fair trial as his awesome hairdo upon capture would have been in getting him a GQ cover. I suspect this move of KSM and three other Guantanamo detainees is the Obama administration’s “yeah, well it’s going to happen anyway” move against the overwhelming legislative backlash against his closing of Gitmo. The Republicans completely against it, the Democrats completely for the <i>idea</i> but against the reality that with the base closed those being held don’t simply vanish into thin air.

In either case, whether it’s by military tribunal or federal trial the outcome is almost certainly going to be the not so speedy execution of KSM. Which I think is a bad idea. A dead KSM becomes a martyr. A locked in solitary confinement for the rest of his life KSM becomes impotent and a more effective symbol of American retaliation. In short, if we catch you you lose your martyrdom card and the 72 virgins along with it. What’s the worst fate for an Islamic extremist? Certainly not a violent death. How about death by old age or disease, locked up like cattle and long forgotten by your cause?

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Mexico’s cartels are corrupting US law enforcement Sat, 31 Oct 2009 13:10:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]> If you think the extent of Mexico’s cartel incursion into the US is limited to increased violence in border towns, think again.
<blockquote>…less widely reported is the infiltration and corruption of American law enforcement, according to Robert Killebrew, a retired U.S. Army colonel and senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. “This is a national security problem that does not yet have a name,” he wrote last fall in The National Strategy Forum Review. The drug lords, he tells me, are seeking to “hollow out our institutions, just as they have in Mexico.</blockquote>
Sounds a bit “Robbian” doesn’t it?

While it’s difficult to imagine US law enforcement succumbing to an infestation of corruption to the degree that their Mexican counterparts have, the increase in corruption in the last few years is a worrying trend. Especially worrying is the fact that in at least one case a corrupt border patrol officer was on the take <i>before</i> she applied and was accepted as a border inspector. Had it not been for the ill timed breakdown of a smugglers van she might still be waving drug ladened vehicles across the border.

With roughly eight border patrol officers per linear mile along the Mexican border, a little bit of corruption goes a long way. Which lends one to wonder why, in it’s infinite wisdom, the Obama administration is, in fact, decreasing the number of border patrol officers.

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Mexico’s drug war spreads south Wed, 21 Oct 2009 23:51:01 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The late 1980′s saw a logistical shift in the international drugs trafficking corridor between the US and Colombia. The traditional entry point for cocaine being shipped into the United States slid west from Florida under increased enforcement State side. Colombian cartels utilized Mexican gangs and their pre-existing marijuana and heroin trafficking routes and suddenly the gates to the drug consuming promise land went from a narrow, increasingly well policed maritime effort to a sparsely policed border thousands of miles long. In effect Colombia, the cocaine trade’s distribution center, outsourced it’s trucking to Mexican gangs.

It wasn’t long before enterprising Mexican traffickers wanted in on the financial windfall their Colombian clientel enjoyed. A deal was reached where compensation for Mexican traffickers shifted from cash payment to a percentage of the product being shipped. From this point on, Mexico would serve not only the largest trafficking corridor into the US but also a growing distribution center. The Mexican gangs coalesced into incredibly well financed uber-cartels and have taken the south to north distribution of their Colombian peers to global heights, networking with the Italian mafia and building distribution hubs to Europe and Russia in western Africa.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s 2006 transformation of how Mexico would deal with it’s increasingly violent cartel’s (i.e. stop turning a blind eye and meet them head on) set into motion a frenzy of violence that has some likening it to a civil war.  It didn’t take long for that violence to spill north into American border towns and it hasn’t taken much longer for that violence and the influence of cartels to spread south into Central American states.

John P. Sullivan (who has previously teamed up with Adam Elkus to cover the Mexican drug war well beyond that of traditional media) and Samuel Logan have a piece up at ISN detailing the southbound trajectory of Mexico’s drug war. I’d encourage readers to give the piece a full read but here’s a slice that captures it’s essence:

<blockquote>Colombia and Costa Rica reaffirmed counternarcotics cooperation on 16 September, underscoring the reality of a new threat to security facing Costa Rica, a country known as the Switzerland of Central America.

While most analysts consider Central America’s northern triangle countries – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – to be the most affected by the regional drug trade, Costa Rica and Panama have in 2009 become de facto passageways, warehouses and money laundering fronts for both Mexican and Colombian organized crime.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that seizures of cocaine have increased dramatically in Panama and Costa Rica over the last few years.

In 2000, seizures of cocaine in Panama and Costa Rica amounted to 7,400 and 5,871 kilograms, respectively. By 2007, this quantity had risen to 60,000 and 32,435 kilos for both states, respectively.</blockquote>

Neither Costa Rica nor Panama have a standing military, the former having been abolished sixty years ago, the latter a decade and a half ago. Even given Mexico’s degree of abject corruption, it’s not hard to surmise that neither country is equipped to easily (perhaps even possibly) deal with a narco-insurgency the likes of which Mexico is currently facing. Given the shift in narco entrepreneurship from Colombia to Mexico in the early 1990′s it’s stands to reason that as Mexico’s military increases it’s pressure  domestically not only will Mexico’s cartels shift south to greener and less effectively policed pastures, but the indigenous, fragmented criminal networks there will mature along the same line of Mexico’s gangs of the 1980′s.

Time for the US to divide drug policy from the lofty, idealist heights it’s currently based upon and focus on a more pragmatic approach.

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Yet another end of civilization scenario Fri, 03 Apr 2009 04:11:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> arcadenov9_trace

An experimental super flu escapes a military installation and wipes out 99% of human kind. Four scourges ride and bring about global calamity and strife. Reports of the inevitability of a large meteor strike and the resulting apocalypse.

The fictional, the prophetic and the scientific; there’s a myriad of literature and media out there that delve into the dark subject of civilization’s destruction. Even as we humans share the in the Darwinian will to survive we maintain a unique, intellectual fascination with our own collective demise. A recent article in New Scientist indulges in this fascination and discusses yet another end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it end game.

One thing that makes this pending cataclysm different from other hell on earth scenario’s is that it doesn’t share the pan-global vision of the popular apocalyptic dramas, predictions or assertions stated above.

In this scenario (or inevitability) the most modern, affluent and successful societies will suffer the most.

IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.

A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation’s infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event – a violent storm, 150 million kilometres away on the surface of the sun.

It sounds ridiculous. Surely the sun couldn’t create so profound a disaster on Earth. Yet an extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in January this year claims it could do just that.

Over the last few decades, western civilisations have busily sown the seeds of their own destruction. Our modern way of life, with its reliance on technology, has unwittingly exposed us to an extraordinary danger: plasma balls spewed from the surface of the sun could wipe out our power grids, with catastrophic consequences.

The projections of just how catastrophic make chilling reading. “We’re moving closer and closer to the edge of a possible disaster,” says Daniel Baker, a space weather expert based at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and chair of the NAS committee responsible for the report.

The full article.

Photo via NASA.

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One of Forbes new billionaires: El Chapo Mon, 16 Mar 2009 07:28:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]> elchapo

Joaquin Guzman, “El Chapo,” head of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, has been recognized by Forbes as one of this years new billionaires.

El Chapo (Shorty) narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by a rival cartel in 1993. A few weeks later he was nabbed by officials in Guatemala and extradited to Mexico where he began a twenty year sentence for bribery and criminal association. In January of 2001, shortly before he was to be extradited to the US, he (bit of irony here) bribed prison guards and escaped via the prison laundry.

Crime has certainly paid for Shorty but I doubt he’s rubbing elbows with his fellow billionaires on some swank golf course. He’s got a $5 million DEA bounty on his head and has made Interpol’s short list. Forbes, last year, put him second behind Osama bin Laden on their top ten most wanted fugitives list. He’s reported to have undergone plastic surgery (sadly, not the deadly sort previous Mexican drug lords have suffered) to alter his appearance, changes cell phones on a daily basis and travels in a subterranean fashion via tunnels whenever possible.

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The Scramble For…well…Everything Sat, 10 May 2008 09:44:53 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Scramble for Africa was a quick proliferation of often conflicting European colonial claims on Africa. While imperialism was initially an indirect process, i.e. ruling or influencing the through locals, it ultimately led to outright annexation and centralized control of foreign lands. As borders hardened and “free territory” quickly disappeared, European empires raced to snatch up what was left. It would seem, at the beginning of the 21st century, the same is playing out as the world’s resources become scarce, or are at least perceived to be scarce. It started in the Arctic and has now moved to all of the world’s oceans.

Oil reserves are running out, gas prices are soaring. France’s government is reacting to the dwindling energy supply much like Russia and Great Britain: the government is laying claim to vast stretches of the world’s oceans. In France’s case, the claims span the globe: from French Guyana in South America to Africa and across the Indian Ocean.

Paris would like to see its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) [...] expanded by almost a million square kilometers. [...]

Like many other states, the French government will be arguing in the next year that its geographic features in many cases extend far beyond the 370 kilometer zone. At most, that could mean an extension of its EEZ to 650 kilometers past the coastline. Right now, France claims more than 11 million square kilometers of the world’s oceans — the second largest in the world, after the United States. May 13, 2009 is the deadline for countries to submit territorial claims to the United Nation’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). A handful of governments have been scrambling to prepare the way for claims down the road by sending out exploration missions and establishing outposts in remote parts of the globe.


Under the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) at the United Nations, member states have until May 13th to officially submit their claims. The key parts of the treaty involves the various oceanic zones radiating out from sovereign territory. The UN Law of the Seas Treaty establishes several different types of zones: internal waters, territorial waters, Archipelagic waters, Contiguous zone, Exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and Continental shelf. The EEZ, as described above, is defined as follows

Exclusive economic zones (EEZs) – Extend 200 nautical miles from the baseline. Within this area, the coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources.

Unlike the high profile Russian attempts to stake a claim to the Arctic, increasing countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones has thusfar remained under the radar. But as claims proliferate and controversy ensues, even friends may clash over faraway islands and seas. Just as the nation-state system has begun to settle and borders have become more stable in many parts of the world, the race to claim every last bit of land, water and ice may undermine that stability, inflame tensions between enemies and divide friends. Oh, and let’s not forget about space.

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German NSC Sparks Controversy Mon, 05 May 2008 11:35:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In 1871, the many German states, previously divided and often at odds with each other, were united under the leadership of Prussia and Otto von Bismarck. Europe had long consisted of a strong France in the west, a divided series of weak states in central Europe and a strong Russia to the East. A united Germany radically changed the situation and led to new instability and a tightening of alliances. From 1871 until 1945, Europe struggled to find a new balance of power with room for a strong Germany and while balance has now come to Europe, the Germans themselves are nevertheless still searching for their proper role in Europe and indeed the world.

It is for these reasons that a seemingly innocuous and in fact logical step like creating a national security council has again sparked debate among citizens and politicians alike. At the moment, Germany has a Bundessicherheitsrat* (Federal Security Council) which deals mainly with the exports of arms. It is very different from what American or British readers would imagine when hearing the name. Over the past few years though, with the changes in both the domestic and international security situation, debate has been ongoing about whether Germany needs a National Security Council based more on the American model for example.

bundesadler.gif In 1998, the Red-Green coalition government (SPD and Green Party) laid out their ideas of the Bundessicherheitsrat in their coalition contract. It envisioned that the Bundessicherheitsrat took on more responsibility than its previous one of merely overseeing weapons exports. In 1998, the Red-Green government of the SPD-Grüne somewhat expanded its role* insofar as giving more weight to the domestic situation in countries purchasing German weapons. Yet, despite the name, it is still a far cry from what other countries have. To begin with, a national security council

is usually an executive branch governmental body responsible for coordinating policy on national security issues and advising chief executives on matters related to national security. An NSC is often headed by a national security adviser and staffed with senior-level officials from military, diplomatic, intelligence, law enforcement and other governmental bodies.

Indeed, the US model for example consists of the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security adviser, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Director of National Intelligence, President’s Chief of Staff, Counsel and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. Included in the Director of National Intelligence are the 16 agencies in the US Intelligence Community both foreign (CIA, NSA, etc) and domestic (FBI, DEA etc). Hence, both internal and external security issues are discussed and coordinated. This stands in contrast to Germany’s current system for example.

In Germany however, no such coordinating and advisory body exists. It is with that, and the changing nature of threats, in mind that the Christian Democratic Union (CDU – center right) has proposed* creating a U.S. style NSC. The proposal notes that “In order to guarantee coherent and effective interagency work combining both domestic and foreign security, a national security council is necessary as a center for political analysis, coordination and decision making” (my translation). Among other things, it will help to coordinate Germany’s domestic agencies like the Verfassungsschutz and Bundeskriminalamt (like the FBI) with the German military and Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). As Volker Kauder, Chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, noted, “Especially with the threat of global terrorism, it’s important to overcome the traditional boundaries between domestic and foreign security.” True enough, but that’s much easier said than done in post-WW2 Germany.

The proposal, under on and off discussion since 2004 and however logical to outsiders, deals with a very touchy. It has been subject to severe criticism by other parties like the SPD and FDP and has been met with skepticism by ordinary Germans. Remember, despite Germany’s previous military achievements in technology and fighting not to mention its world-renowned weapons manufacturers, Germany is still a country where only 62% of its men would fight to defend it and around 75% of the country thinks it is never acceptable to use violence to achieve important political goals. In fact, the German constitution explicitly states that no one can be forced to bear arms. It is with that in mind that critics say plans for an NSC must be done away with, that it is entirely unnecessary, that it could undermind Germany’s foreign policy and how much influence it would have on policy in relation to parliament. In addition, the opposition worries it would lead to more German military participation abroad and potentially use of the German army domestically (Germany has no national guard). Yet, Kauder and others ask about the increasing importance of energy security and “How should we react when China supports dictators to ensure access to raw materials?”

This Wednesday, May 7th, the CDU is holding a conference (English) to discuss their new 16 page Entwurf für eine Sicherheitsstrategie für Deutschland (Draft for a Security Strategy for Germany). The English description of the even is as follows:

Germany’s involvement in international peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and in the Balkans is the result of the new role our country has assumed in international security policy. The growing threat of terrorist activity, nuclear proliferation, dependency on certain countries for energy and raw materials and the consequences of climate change demand a comprehensive overhaul of our security policy concept. Current debates about the deployment of Bundeswehr troops demonstrate the need to improve communication about Germany’s security policy to the general public. A broad-based debate on security policy needs to be generated at all levels of society in order to reach a general consensus, on the basis of threat analyses and discussions into the appropriate response. In May, the CDU/CSU parliamentary group will therefore present a draft security strategy for Germany that will analyze security threats both domestic and foreign, both military and non-military, and present appropriate security policy solutions.

Check back later in the week for an update and more discussion on a potential German NSC and the CDUs proposals.

* link in German

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War or Adaptation Sun, 04 May 2008 10:32:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’ve discussed the issue of the War on Terror, specifically its name and whether is is helpful or counterproductive. Curzon also noted that it could become a nebulous war without end.

So readers: Can the Global War on Terror really even be called a war or is it simply America’s adapting to a new reality?

Does labeling it a war increase the “profit” of terrorism, as the War on Drugs has done to drug prices?

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Whack a Mole in Failed States Fri, 02 May 2008 11:36:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Yesterday’s air strike against terrorist Aden Hashi Ayro has met with mixed feelings. While some extoll it as a step forward for Somalia and a tactical victory for the United States, others claim it is another mistake leading to the further destabilization of the country. Yet, even if it amounts to a whack-a-mole tactic, the fact remains that if you stop playing the game, you lose.

David Axe at War is Boring claims that the presence of OEF forces in Djibouti and their occasional involvement in Somalia is actually destabilizing the country with hard to predict consequences. But how you can further destabilize Somalia seems unclear to this blogger. On the other hand, Somalia’s embassy in Kenya has the opposite to say noting that “This will definitely weaken the Shebab, [...] This will help with reconciliation. You can’t imagine how many Somalis are saying, ‘Yes, this is the one.’ The reaction is so good.” So which is it? According to The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, a new think tank, denying terrorists the befits of places like Somalia is a more realistic and achievable goal than stabilizing such places.

While a concern with security vacuums is warranted, the implication is not that we must consistently prevent security vacuums. That takes immense resources, as the largely unsuccessful effort to end the security vacuum in Iraq [prior to 2007] show. Indeed preventing all security vacuums would be a Herculean task involving American power in numerous failed and failing states around the world. However, denying terrorists the benefits of security vacuums is likely a more feasible strategy.

Indeed, this blogger would have to agree. Part of the US strategy in the Global War on Terror is not retribution for 9/11 but defending the United States by, among other things, putting the terrorists on the defense. While pundits like to joke about the “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” line of thinking, it remains a legitimate, feasible and worthy goal. While it won’t be useful against the newest generation of DIY terrorists, it is indeed effective against others. Neither the United States, nor all of the West can hope to stabilize and pacify the world’s myriad of trouble spots, but denying safe haven to terrorists is not only doable, it is the duty of the government. This is why criticism such as Axe’s seems naive,

Far from being a failed state, for several years prior to 2006, Somalia was actually getting better, with the spread of the hardline Islamic Courts regime providing a measure of security that enabled real economic investment and governance. While some Al Qaeda operatives were possibly hiding out in the countryside, it’s unfair to say that Somalia was becoming a terror haven under the Courts — or becoming a worse “security vacuum.”

One could additionally argue that Afghanistan benefited from Taliban rule and indeed in some ways did, however stability does not equal security, something Mr. Axe should remember. While he does offer important insight and analysis into the situation in the Horn of Africa, it would be prudent to consider the West has its hands full with Afghanistan and Iraq at the moment. And as those cases show, stabilizing countries with long histories of chaos or dictatorship require more blood, treasure and above all willpower by the public than we have at the moment. Denying terrorists free reign in a failed state may not be the ideal solution but it is the most realistic.

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What Now in Afghanistan? Tue, 29 Apr 2008 13:27:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]> With the promotion of General David Petraeus to CENTCOM commander, commentators are questioning what it means for Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan but let’s focus on Afghanistan.

On October 7th 2001, the Unites States and United Kingdom launched their attack on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The initial phase of the war consisted of minimal ground troops which coordinated attacks with the Northern Alliance, allowing them to do the lion’s share of the fighting. Some argued too few troops and reliance on the Northern Alliance was a mistake, however, it was the only way to began the war as quickly as was done and to avoid the previous mistakes of the British and Soviet Union who sent overwhelming ground forces in and were soundly defeated.

isaf.gif A small agile force allowed for maximum flexibility, leverage of local know-how and avoidance of being seen as an occupier like the UK and USSR. The country fell quickly and an new government was formed. Avoiding an occupational government was a key part of our Afghan strategy insofar as again avoiding being seen as occupiers as well as avoiding decades long occupation such as in Bosnia and Kosovo where the US and other partners shouldered most of the burden. We were to help them help themselves, not just help them. This too was successful. According to Douglas Feith, “Creating a stable, post-Taliban Afghanistan is desirable, but not necessarily within the power of the US.”

Yet, with the initial war goals accomplished, the US and its coalition partners bumped up against the next set of problems, none of which had much to do with the war itself, but rather with the nature of Afghanistan itself, namely: geography and history. While America’s strategy to win the initial war was built on an understanding of the failures of the UK and USSR, these underlying problems cannot be so easily researched and solved. Afghanistan was created, in short, to serve as a buffer between British India and the expanding Russian Empire and for this it worked rather well. The extremely rugged topography of the country has always made having a central government extremely difficult, regardless whether that government was democratic or dictatorial.


In fact, geography alone goes a long way in terms of explaining the failure to establish any functioning government over history. While the country’s political borders create a single political entity, its geography does the opposite, breaking it into largely isolated pieces. In this sense, the difficulty establishing a single authority is not unlike the problems archipelago nations like Indonesia or the Philippines have. With transportation and communication difficult, basic commerce becomes challenging, much less enough common experience to build the idea of a nation. Additional problems of porous borders and drugs further complicate the situation.

With this in mind, this blogger cannot support the popular criticism that Afghanistan suffers from a dramatic shortage of troops. Indeed, one of the main tenets of US strategy has been a small force, which by the way, did accomplish its tasks. While small increases in troop numbers may make a difference in certain areas, any large increase would ultimately harm our efforts. Our goal should not be more, but rather smarter. This includes more coordination with international NGOs and pressure for partner countries to fulfill their promises such as Germany training the Afghan police, Italy helping build their judicial system and the UK fighting drugs. The US cannot be the fallback for every lazy partner. In addition, success stories such as the training and now active operations of US-trained Afghan commando units. Threat’s Watch notes that:

[...] the development of the Afghan commando force must continue apace if it is to demonstrate the level of operational efficacy and, equally important, sustainability to permit a draw-down of US Special Forces units. Still, the Afghanis and their Green Beret mentors appear to be off to an auspicious start, and if ultimately successful, the entire Western world will reap the benefits of a counterinsurgency force equipped with the technical know-how and linguistic and cultural sensitivity to disrupt insurgent networks in an immeasurably pivotal theater.

Indeed. Additional US forces would largely foster continued dependence on foreigners and create a larger footprint leading to more resentment and incidents. While more boots on the ground may indeed help in certain areas or situations, they are not the answer. A smarter, more resilient and better coordinated strategy must be be adopted by all of the coalition partners in order to make any headway on these deeply rooted historical problems and most important of all, it must be communicated clearly and realistically to locals, partners and the world.

UPDATE: RFERL discusses the importance of road projects for both the Afghan economy and for international forces and counterinsurgency .

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Deterence And the Missile Shield Sun, 20 Apr 2008 13:37:04 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As is common with most things dominating the news cycle, important background explanations and underlying principles are often if not always left inadequately answered or not touched on at all. One such example is the US missile shield which now has the official backing of NATO and the issue of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The missile shield involves several factors such as Iran and deterrence. Let us begin with the latter.

Deterrence is a military strategy, most famous for its importance during the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. In essence, the strategy aims to negatively influence the enemy’s decision to attack. This can be accomplished by two types of deterrence: deterrence or deterrence by denial. The first option threatens massive retaliation against the enemy in the event of an attack while the second one seeks to make the achievement of the enemy’s goal so difficult as to be not worthwhile. The first method is most famous as the basis of MAD, mutually assured destruction.

There are several problematic assumptions with deterrence, regardless of whether we speak of its use during the Cold War or today. First of all, its usefulness is based on the assumption that enemy actors are rational and make rational decisions. It also does not allow for flaws in the decision making process, both technical and human as well as rogue influence in the decision making process of enemy states. Lastly, it does not necessarily allow for errors or misunderstandings in the diplomatic process.

However, while it is often easy to look back on the Cold War with a sense of nostalgia because it at least seems to black and white compared to today, the same issues existed at that time and nevertheless worked. Stalin, one of history’s greatest mass-murderers was extremely paranoid and would be hard to characterize as a rational actor, yet here we are today. As recently unclassified documents about deterrence in the post-Cold-War era notes “The very framework of a concept that depends on instilling fear and uncertainty in the minds of opponents was never, nor can it be, strictly rational. Nor has it ever required strictly rational adversaries to function.”

This leaves us with three remaining issues, that of the missile shield, Iran, and terrorists. The missile shield being built by the US, and now supported by NATO, primarily serves to defend Europe and later the US against nuclear attacks by rogue nations such as Iran or North Korea. While it may indeed have the potential for dual use, i.e. offensive use and brings up issues of nuclear primacy and first strike capability, let us focus on its relevance to non-Russian threats.

While all sides of the American political spectrum spar over whether Iran is deterable and whether the US and/or Israel should allow Tehran to acquire a nuclear capability, deterrence and its history makes clear that one does not necessarily need rational actors leading enemy states to properly function. Deterrence through massive retaliation aims not only to make the result of a cost-benefit analysis of attacking a clear negative, it also aims to instill fear and uncertainty. Hitler, for example, who was in possession of chemical weapons would clearly have had no qualms about using them against the Russians. However,

“[...] he knew that both Roosevelt and Churchill had stated categorically that any use of chemical weapons by German armed force would be met with retaliation in kind, and that the retaliation could well be directed against German industrial centers. Allied long-range bomber forces were already conducting bombing raids on a scale which made credible the threat that the destruction would be greatly escalated should chemical weapons be introduced. Fearing retaliation and its consequences for the German war-supporting industries, Hitler did not use chemical weapons.”

Thus it is no less probable that a nuclear armed Iran would be deterable in the same way both Nazi Germany and the USSR were. This leaves us, however, with the possibility of rogue influence (i.e. a rogue commander or other individual), a flawed decision making process (a technical error such as in the case of Stanislav Petrov) or some diplomatic error or misunderstanding. The missile shield is a hedge against these possibilities and is thus an important addition to US deterrence and by extension defense policy.

In conclusion, Iran and other such rogue states as North Korea or Syria are indeed deterable. Radical terrorists, however, are another story and as Keith Payne, who recently spoke at John’s Hopkins noted, some are and others are not. But that is another post for another day.

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Ungoverned Megacities Sat, 03 Nov 2007 21:15:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, has made an unusually public statement for a man and indeed an agency that usually remains invisible.

[...] Mumbai, Mexico City and Jakarta, saying they had become partially ungovernable. He noted the rise of private security firms to protect wealthier residents in sealed communities or to support the army, as in Iraq. “The increasing privatisation of core state responsibilities in the military and security areas carries with it the danger – even in Western states – of the erosion of the state’s monopoly on the use of force,” Uhrlau said.

[...] “Some states are now only partially able to carry out their original core responsibilities – protecting their people from violence,” Uhrlau said. This could lead to the destabilisation of entire regions and promote international terrorism, he warned. Afghanistan provided a good example of how a “failed state” had provided a base for the al-Qaeda network, Uhrlau said. Europe had its own problems, particularly in the Balkans, where the causes of conflict were “far from overcome.”

Sounds like someone bought him a copy of Brave New War. I’ve discussed ungoverned spaces before here at Coming Anarchy, and said they are defined as “a physical or non-physical area where there is an absence of state capacity or political will to exercise control.” While the post focuses on failed and failing states, cities are no less relevant. Indeed, ungoverned spaces exist in every ghetto around the globe whether in Los Angeles, Paris or Lagos. As militaries focus more on urban combat, it is indeed time for our intelligence agencies to focus more on urban intel collection and that means focusing more on HUMINT and less on fancy new toys.

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The Future of Terrorism Thu, 25 Oct 2007 10:34:19 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Could this be the the kind of future terrorism we’ll face? The cost of an attack is almost zero and the returns in the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. No bomb making or specialist training necessary.

An interesting question: Why haven’t and/or why wouldn’t a terrorist group want to claim responsibility for this. Even if not actually responsible, it would spark another round of terrorism and civil rights debates as well as surely costing a great deal of money if not to better secure against such threats, then at least to endlessly talk about them.

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Uncommon Sense II Sun, 14 Oct 2007 16:04:19 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Continuing from my previous post

Iraq is a mess:With the world so polarized and so much media coverage on the matter, it’s no surprise Iraq is a black and white issue. As always, reality refuses to agree with anyone in particular. First of all, instead of discussing Iraq, one should instead be discussing Kurdistan, al-Anbar, greater Baghdad and the Shia south. Kurdistan is the most successful part of Iraq with almost no violence and thriving business. Al-Anbar has come a long way and although not out of the woods yet, has largely quieted down and is at a point where political progress can be made. Whether it will be is another question. As for greater Baghdad, it’s still a disaster. The Shia south is “relatively” stable albeit neither peaceful nor anywhere near as successful as Kurdistan. Ultimately, the true test for the US and for Iraqis themselves is getting them to believe in “Iraq.”

The US ruined US-EU relations: Since the end of the Cold War, both America and Europe have been operating on an ad hoc basis, without any guiding grand strategy. Needless to say, the existential threat posed by the USSR which firmly bonded the two together since 1945 was gone. A redefinition of the relationship was coming long before 2003. In the 1990s, Europe and the US were too busy relishing peace and prosperity to let differences over the The Gulf War,Yugoslav civil war, Kosovo or minor bombings around the world bother us. Discussions of NATO’s changing mission slowly gained momentum and the need thereof was finally proven in the 1999 liberation of Kosovo. Tensions have no doubt been exacerbated by the current administration whose words and deeds have often made the situation worse. But the fact remains that a redefinition has been long awaiting the transatlantic relationship. The US and EU will remain close as before, but our goals, values and what means we achieve them with must again be newly invented.

Turkey is going Islamist For almost half a millenium, Turkey was oriented towards the Middle East, no doubt because of much of it was part of the Ottoman Empire. The post-WWI Turkey we know and love is rather an exception, historically seen, in its Western orientation, again due partially to the Cold War and the Soviet threat on its eastern border. While the new Turkish Republic has adopted the Latin alphabet, the democratic political system and open markets, it still remains very much a part of the Middle East historically, culturally, economically and politically. Like Europe, with the geopolitical situation having completely changes since 1991 and with a renewed focus on the Middle East, Turkey is rediscovering its neighbors. This move eastwards has little to do with any domestic Turkish administration or that of Europe or the US.

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From Yemen to Djibouti via Bin Laden Sat, 13 Oct 2007 11:49:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Recently, we along with many others have been discussing the new African Command (AfriCom) of the US military. It’s temporary quarters is here in Stuttgart, Germany. Yet, a rather interesting geopolitical development could be threatening its mission, namely a bridge linking Yemen and Djibouti.

Where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden, a mere 17 miles separates the so-called Horn of Africa from the Middle East. According to the Jamestown Foundation, to top things off, the bridge is being constructed by Tarek Bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s half brother. The article goes on to note his shady background involving Islamic Charities that were involved in less than charitable activities as well as his obviously being relation to a wanted terrorist. However, it fails to mention that the bin Laden family is simply one of the largest and richest construction companies in the region lessening the importance of this. Would linking the two countries really be as dangerous as the authors believe. At the moment, French, German and American soldiers are all stationed and operating in and from Djibouti as part of Operation Enduring Freedom – Horn of Africa (OEF-HOA). Their mission includes monitoring traffic in the HOA area as well as anti-terror operations on the mainland with a focus on Somalia.

Given that any number of small boats can and do cross from Africa to the Yemeni coast daily with both licit and illicit goods, it seems doubtful that a bridge, something far easier to control, would be a real challenge to international anti-terror operations in the region. In fact, given both countries’ worries about radical Islam, border control on the bridge would likely be especially tight. In addition, one would imagine that DHS, for example, would provide plenty of training, support and technical equipment to help monitor the bridge as they’ve done in countries like Georgia.

Lastly, such a bridge could in fact be far more positive than Jamestown notes as it would provide an official conduit through which legitimate trade can flow and thus a source of new tax revenue for each government. While illicit trade will no doubt continue to occur, helping to channel legitimate trade and movement through a bridge could bring more “transparency” to trade between the HOA and Yemen as well as increasing the overall volume. Although I highly respect Jamestown, I have to humbly disagree with their take on this development and fail to see any deeper significance with regard to who is constructing it. Readers?

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Germany Then and Now Tue, 14 Aug 2007 22:44:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]> [Introductory post]

Sixteen years after the end of the Cold War, many still speak about it as they would other past events. Yet, despite the fall of the USSR being obvious, the effects it has had on other countries seem to be often overlooked. 1991 didn’t just herald the end of our main adversary, but that of many other countries as well, especially Germany. Germany, more than any other country, was defined by the Cold War. Occupied and ultimately split in two, it remained occupied in a sense, by the US until the early 90s. Being the front line, where WWIII would begin, dominated Germany and its people. Imagine not knowing whether your country would be hit by waves of Soviet armored divisions or with a surprise nuclear strike.

Needless to say, those days are over and Germany finds itself looking east. With immigration from Eastern Europe, the expansion of German businesses into the East and the enlargement of the EU, Germany finds itself with no existential threats and moreover no threats to its territory. Thus, like the United States, it is forced to look at the lesser-includeds and reexamine its foreign and security policies. In October 2006, the German government issued a new white paper on German defense policy and notes “The focus of German security interests has shifted to crises and conflicts all over the world instead.” It goes on to say

The Bundeswehr is an instrument of a comprehensive and proactive security and defence policy. Its mission is: to guarantee the capacity for action in the field of foreign policy, to contribute towards European and global stability, to maintain national security and defence, to provide assistance in the defence of our allies, to foster multinational cooperation and integration.

Yet, although it would seem Germany has now “officially” realized what the United States has, there remains a large disconnect between the government and its people. Bombarded by half a century of pacifism and holocaust memories, ordinary Germans’ natural reaction to all war is negative. At the same time, however, their strong belief in international law and human rights demands that action be taken, directly clashing with the pacifist beliefs of many. When speaking of interventions abroad such as Kosovo, Americans ask themselves “Why are we here?” whereas Germans ask “Do we have the right to be here in the first place?”

Germany has long prided itself on being a civilian power and on having renounced war but the post-Cold War era has put an end to that dream. German deployments abroad have steadily increased the past two decades yet average Germans have not yet developed a new understanding of their role in the world and the contradictory nature of their national beliefs. This will be one of the main obstacles to a more militarily assertive and active Germany. While there are some positive signs such as the Greens being strong advocates of Germany’s continuing presence in Afghanistan for human rights reasons (link in German), it will be a long process.

Playing with the other children

Germany’s three most important relationships are with America, France and Russia. While still a firm ally of the United States, Germany is now free to develop more independent policies and promote its own values and interests on the international stage. While the conflict between former Chancellor Schröder and President Bush was one of extremes, future German governments, including the current more conservative one, will nevertheless be more assertive diplomatically and not avoid disagreements when they arise. The American government must now accept that the Federal Republic of Germany has grown up and is moving out of the house. While still an integral part of the Western family, it is now an adult and must be treated as such. Future as well as recent disagreements between the US and Germany should not be misunderstood as hostility, anti-Americanism or ungratefulness, but rather through the prism mentioned above. A change in mindset in Washington and in the general public is necessary.

For France, Germany’s historical arch-enemy, the post-Cold War era has been filled with both opportunity and disappointment. While both countries enjoy close ties, their long term national goals differ, at times considerably. While France has long sought to use the EU has a counterbalance or at least peer to the United States, even under different governments, Germany has disappointed seeking both more power and influence in Europe and often playing the arbiter and seeking the political middle ground. Since WWII, France has enjoyed its position of power in Europe, unchallenged by a pacifist and self-conscious Germany. With the Soviet Union gone, Germany is now assuming its natural position of leading regional power and will no longer be content to be France’s little brother in a situation comparable to US-German relations.

Last and certainly most interesting, is Germany’s relationship with Russia. Although under Chancellor Schröder, Russia and Germany flirted with much closer ties, ultimately they have little in common in terms of values, goals and policies. Yet, Russia must be dealt with and on top of being a major energy supplier, it is a major European and global power. Germany’s policy towards Russia will continue to be one of constructive disagreement, promoting democracy and human rights just loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to upset the Russians. Cordial relations will Moscow remain important, especially as relations between Russia and the UK, as well as with the US, deteriorate steadily. Germany will continue to mold itself as an impartial and honest broker, accomplishing its political goals and benefiting overall in the process.

Germany spent much of its history being a buffer zone between great powers, first between France and Russia, and later between the US and Russia. Those days are over.

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1973 and 2001 Mon, 02 Jul 2007 20:53:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]> On October 17, 1973, members of Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries chose to embargo the United States, Western Europe and Japan for their support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Both the United States and Japan responded by looking into alternative energy sources and improving energy efficiency. However, while Americans quickly forgot the lessons of 1973, the Japanese did not. As Peter Schwartz notes (p145)

In 1973, the United States and Japan were hit with the same challenge: a quadrupling of oil prices. The United States responded with a winners and losers scenario in which it was, it eflt, the winner. “This is temporary, we will surely will,” said American policymakers. “We don’t need to worry about it.” Within a year, the United States was importing half its oil. Japan responded instead by completely rebuilding its capital structure to become the most energy-efficient economy in the world.

Americans still saw environmentalism as zero-sum. You could either have economic growth and prosperity, or more environmentally friendly policies, but not both. This is why we are still struggling with what the Japanese figured out over three decades ago.

Today, while Americans are beginning to realize that environmentalism isn’t zero-sum, we are polarized in another crucial national security debate: terrorism. You can either fight terrorists and failed states with force and be safe, or you can avoid force and be overrun by jihadis and rogues.

Americans once thought “sustainable development” was a contradiction. Economic growth and environmental quality couldn’t go together. Yet, we’ve learned they can. What will be our “sustainable counter-terrorism” ?

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Failed States, Part 2: How Instability Spreads Sat, 30 Jun 2007 14:07:01 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In a follow-up to yesterday’s post, here’s a solid explainer from Foreign Policy on how instability, whether it be violence, drugs, or refugees, can spread from one country to another spreading the chaos. Abridged from the article linked above:

The violence in Darfur has created a ripple effect that is bleeding into Chad and the CAR. The Sudanese government has been accused of backing rebel groups in both countries, which has in turn created hundreds of thousands of additional refugees, and disorganized refugee camps vulnerable to the same types of marauding militias that have terrorized Darfur for the past four years.

Somalia, hostage to factional fighting between warlords for more than 15 years, recently under the short-lived and allegedly stability Union of Islamic Courts and recently overthrown by the invasion of Ethiopian troops in favor of an interim government. But fighting continues and the region remains as unstable as it has in a decade. And refugees from the fighting have spilled into Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Kenya, destabilizing a large portion of the Horn of Africa. Prospects for the further development of Kenya and Uganda, and the stability of Ethiopia and Eritrea, are in jeopardy as long as Somalia continues to export instability

Fighting by a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and in the lawless Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan has the potential to spread instability across Central Asia. That’s stating the obvious. But what really has neighboring states such as Pakistan and Uzbekistan concerned is that Afghanistan’s record poppy yield and the drug trafficking routes used to export them will cut into the former USSR and bring with it crime, addiction, and HIV/AIDS.

The point of these three examples? Tackling hot spots across the globe isn’t just altruism. It’s common sense. Because places like the Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan will inevitably export their misery to other countries that affects the developed world too.

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The Coming Clash in Turkey Tue, 19 Jun 2007 13:23:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Turkish columnist Ahmet Altan has a fantastic article up in the current English language issue of the Spiegel. While its conclusion is a bit alarmist, the social divide is very real. He begins:

Currently in Turkey, there is, on the one hand, a great mass of people who leave their shoes at the door before entering the house; whose women cover their heads; whose men go out in the street in pajamas; whose teenage boys frequent coffeehouses while girls live under a completely repressive rule; people whose homes are lit with cheap florescent bulbs; who enjoy a type of music somewhere between folk and arabesque; who have perhaps never read a book, never danced, never been to a restaurant as husband and wife, never gone to the theater; who have little education and profess strong religious beliefs.

On the other hand, there are those who went to high school at Robert College, with its girls’ lyceum; who have danced at college parties or weddings, who go to movies, who read books, though not a lot; who are relatively well-educated; whose taste in music ranges from pop to classical; whose homes are decorated relatively tastefully; whose women don’t cover their heads; who may not permit their teenage girls to date but look the other way when they do; who believe in God but pay little attention to prayers; who drink alcohol in mixed company though they may not know much about wines; who follow newspapers, watch talk shows, feel they are more progressive than the first group and live largely Western lives.

The life-styles of these two groups are disconnected. Unlike in the West, where a sensibility shared by all classes is created out of such elements as church music, religious iconography and stories from the Bible adapted even for the screen, there is no cultural ground uniting the competing groups in Turkey. Their lives, their tastes, and their beliefs are separate. Even antagonistic.

Indeed, while In Istanbul not long ago, I witnessed the massive protests of the secularists, or radical secularists as I call them against the nomination of foreign minister Abdullah Gül, for president. Politics have become increasingly polarized over time and Gül for president seems to be what finally brought this out in the open, but nationally and internationally.

Pro-secular protests in Istanbul, April 2007

While discussing Turkish issues under the Galata bridge with Carpetblogger, we both agreed that whereas some in the West and in fact many in Turkey see radical Islam as a threat to Turkish democracy, it was indeed radical secularists who posed the biggest threat. Unlike the West which they so wish to mimic, Turkish “democrats” go much further than separation of church and state and in fact seek to ban all religious influence in politics. Even mentioning God or quoting religious sources brings instant outrage and calls for resignation. In Europe and the United States, most seek to limit religious influence and promote tolerance. Imagine if a congressmen were arrested for talking about Christian values during a session.

More and more, as the secular democrats in Turkey realize that the religious masses are politically mobilized and now able to win almost every election, the “democrats” are resorting to exactly the intolerance they hope to avoid. While Turkish democrats become increasingly hardline and undemocratic, the religious masses who have grown up with democracy and learned to work within it are realizing that the so-called democrats quickly discard the values they claim to believe in. With democracy already under fire in many parts of the world, the only Muslim democracy discrediting itself will bode very badly for the region.

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On Demographics, Part 3: Why the Gap will conquer the Core Tue, 12 Jun 2007 07:30:54 +0000 Continue reading ]]> UPDATE: Dr. Barnett responds in an unfortunately typical vitrioled post (“analytically-narrow”… “drunken [sic?] the Kool-Aid”… “Dark Lord”, etc., etc.). If anyone sees a real response in there, please share the substance in the comments.


Part 1Part 2

Dr. Thomas Barnett has built his career on describing the world as divided between a rich and developed “Core,” and an unconnected and undeveloped “Gap.” We’ve tried to “map” this gap several times here at CA to try and understand where the exact lines are. But when it comes down to it, the biggest indicator of the gap-core border is not homosexuality laws or war risk insurance policies, but simply looking at birth rates. All the developed societies in North America, Europe, and the Pacific quickly stopped producing babies once they became rich. The undeveloped world in Africa, South America, South Asia and the Middle East continues to grow at astounding rates. Compare a map of birth rates to a map of Barnett’s Gap and you get a crystal clear correlation: the higher the birth rate, the worse off the country.


It almost defies logic. The most miserable, ungoverned disasters of nations on this earth — the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and Afghanistan — are the ones with the highest growth rates. Or as Robert D. Kaplan said in this interview on PBS more than a decade ago on April 5 1996:

All the new babies in the world are not being born in Japan or Scarsdale or Singapore. They’re being born in poor African countries, subcontinental India, and the poorest parts of our own societies. It’s like one part of the world is going in one direction, but a large swath of humanity is going in another. And overpopulation, disease pandemics, rising crime, cultural dysfunction, are going to make a critical mass of the Third World so far behind that they won’t be able to catch up.

Thomas P.M. Barnett is optimistic that the core counties can shrink the gap. Perhaps. But to paraphrase from Coming Anarchy, the world population in 1950 was 2.5 billion, it’s 6 billion today, and it will break 9 billion in 40 years. Although optimists have hopes for new resource technologies and free-market development in the global village, a whopping 95 percent of the population increase will be in the poorest regions of the world. Places like the Somalia, Sudan, and Afghanistan where governments do not function, the economy a wreck, and exports are non-existent. These places are already security black holes, and its only going to get worse as their populations explode.

This population growth will put an increasing strain on our environment and our energy resources. And while neo-Malthusians may underestimate human adaptability in today’s environmental-social system, time may ultimately prove them right.

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China’s Ambitions Sat, 17 Mar 2007 05:25:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

China isn’t looking to replace U.S., prime minister says

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China said Friday that his country was still struggling to overcome major obstacles to its internal development and would not seek to disrupt the world order dominated by the United States.

In a news conference broadcast live on national television, Wen deflected a series of questions about China’s rising financial and military power and its fast-growing emissions of the gases that are thought to contribute to climate change. He argued that China remained a developing country that must study the experiences of richer nations, and that the country would always act responsibly on the world stage.

Wen stressed that his focus remained squarely on overcoming what he termed “hidden crises” that threaten to undermine China’s economy, which, he said, remained “unbalanced, uncoordinated, unstable and unsustainable,” even as it grew rapidly. He said the country must also address the “overconcentration of power” that has fueled rampant corruption, and that it must do more to help the poor.

By and large, having traveled over much of China, I agree with the Prime Minister. China has a long, long way to go before it truly stands to rival the US as a superpower, on every level imaginable. However, I have two primary concerns that were also addressed: the Chinese military and freedom of speech. First, on defense:

China’s official defense budget for 2007 rose 18 percent to $45.3 billion, continuing a decade-long streak of double-digit increases. China’s defense budget in 2007 exceeds that of Japan and is fast approaching budgeted levels of defense spending in Britain and France, the largest military spenders after the United States.

Asked to explain China’s recent firing of an anti-satellite missile that successfully destroyed one of China’s own defunct satellites in space, Wen answered obliquely. He stressed that the test — which he referred to as “an experiment in outer space” rather than the firing of a ground-based ballistic missile into space — was aimed at no other country. “China’s position on the peaceful utilization of outer space remains unchanged,” he said.

Someone should tell their military. As for freedom of speech, once again, the evidence speaks for itself:

Wen appeared to be caught off guard when asked about the political views of Zhao Ziyang, a late leader of the Communist Party who was purged after he opposed the use of force to quell dissent during the 1989 democracy protests in Beijing. Zhao’s thoughts on democracy and political reform were the subject of a book published in January in Hong Kong by a longtime confidant of the former leader, who died in 2005. Though Wen once worked for Zhao, he answered the question tersely. “I have not read this book,” he said. The book is banned in mainland China.

And although Wen’s news conference was carried live on Chinese television, all references to Zhao were subsequently struck from the official transcript of the news conference and edited out of a Webcast of the session.

What do readers think of the China’s future? As the stock market slumps and military spending rises, what should we expect China to look like in 2010, just three years away; and further in the future, in 2020?

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