Iraqi Demonstrations create a difficult situation for the U.S.

                        Taking inspiration from recent uprisings in the Middle East, the Iraqi Nation Party and the Iraqi Communist Party have been holding demonstrations in Iraq against their government.  Trying to stifle the winds of protest, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has ordered the offices of these political parties closed. Though the government makes the case, that these are merely evictions and that this is a part of a plan to put publicly owned buildings to government use, it is curious that these are the very groups that speak out the most against Maliki’s government.  Along with this, leaders of these political parties state that they were asked to align with Maliki’s Dawa Party and when they refused, their buildings were taken away from them with little ceremony.

                         Being an American- backed government it is interesting to see how Iraq/ Maliki will handle this situation and in turn how America will. In a country where democracy is so actively being promoted by America, these major trespasses on freedom are shocking. The U.S forces are in a difficult situation; if they do not act, it will show a weakness in a resolve to promote democracy and freedom to the people and if they do act, it could be seen as America impinging on Iraqi’s rights to run their own government.

~ Priyanka

Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Recruit More Insurgents

In light of recent incidents in Afghanistan that have racked up heavy civilian casualties, critiques of General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine have increased.
Consequently, Petraeus has attempted to divert attention away from indicators which undermine the claims of progress of his “population-centric” strategy. His strategy is soon to be under review, and it relies upon a large number of troops which may be withdrawn this summer if conditions on the ground do not improve.
According to a recent UN report, more Afghan civilians were killed in 2010 than any other year. A total of 2,777 Afghan casualties occurred despite the additional 30,000 U.S. troops. Although Pentagon officials highlight that three-fourths of these civilian deaths were a product of the Taliban, that does not change the fact that the U.S. led coalition has incurred less casualties than the Afghan people who they are assigned to protect. Thus, the Afghan people are the ones suffering from the insurgent attacks rather than the coalition troops.
Rather than focus on civilian casualties, U.S. officials have focused on emphasizing the number of dead insurgents as a means to determine the effectiveness of the current counterinsurgency strategy. According to military officials, 2, 448 insurgents were killed in the past eight months, which is a 55 percent increase from last year. Over 900 Taliban “leaders” have also been killed or captured in the past ten months.
However, it is important to note how many insurgents have been killed as a percentage of the entire insurgency. Although American leaders claim to be making headway with killing members of the Taliban, the size of the Taliban movement has remained unchanged since last year, remaining at 25,000.
Although the United States has killed and captured thousands of Taliban in the past year, it has also created more insurgents in the process as civilian casualties recruit more insurgents to the cause.

Experts Predict Budget Crisis if Defense Spending is not Curbed

Many top government officials like the co-chairman of the presidential debt commission believe that if the United States continues to pour resources into the Department of Defense that it could face a debt crisis within the next two years. Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration and co-chairman of the last year’s presidential Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, stated “we want to keep the country safe and secure, but I don’t think the country can afford to spend more on national defense than the next 14 countries combined.” Bowles has urged Congress to adopt an idea of safe defense spending responsibility due to his belief that soon the United States will grow so large that it will not be able to borrow money to compensate for its hunger for defense capabilities. He predicts that when that happens, the United States will face a major budget crisis.

There have been some steps taken to curb the United States’ defense appetite. The majority of debt commissioners (5 democrats, 5 republicans, and 1 independent) voted to reduce defense spending by the same percentage as non-defense discretionary spending. They also voted for some cuts in the federal retirement programs.

I am in complete agreement with Bowles. As I have stated before in my blog posts, the defense spending is one of the paramount aspects of keeping the United States safe and running efficiently. I also agree that it seems a little ridiculous to outspend nearly all other nations combined in defense spending. I too worry that if something is not done, and our spending appetite is not reduced, that we will be facing a major budgetary and national crisis.


State Run Terrorism in Pakistan

As Raymond Davis’ prosecution moves forward with no discernible conclusion in the Lahore province of Pakistan, information surrounding the event is creating a wedge between Pakistan and the United States. The news that Mr Davis was a CIA operative operating in Pakistan may not have been shocking to anyone who has been keeping an eye on U.S. operations in Pakistan, but what he was specifically tasked with investigating is more worrisome.

Lashkar-e-Taiba has been operating in Pakistan for over a decade and is an extremely active Islamic terrorist organization. Pakistan fostered Lashkar to act as belligerent actor against India in the disputed Kashmir region. Their aims have reached deeper into India, with the brutal attacks in Mumbai in 2007 and by all accounts they have aspirations to conduct a terror campaign into Europe.

Pakistan banned Lashkar in 2002, but they have made no moves to disband the organization and may possibly make moves to promote them in the future. Lashkar has unrestricted free reign in the Lahore province, where Mr. Davis was stationed and operated.

Pakistan views Lashkar as an essential actor in the future, as the theoretical departure date of the United States from Afghanistan draws near. This group can act as an effective and incredibly brutal equalizer to their arch rival India.

How Pakistan views and interacts with this group is an important aspect of U.S. security within the region and shows the true nature of the Pakistani government in Islamabad. Outsiders may have a hard time discerning Lashkar-e-Taiba from the Pakistani government in the future.


Further reading

Iran Pursues Cyber Army

In response to the recent Stuxnet virus that harmed Iran’s nuclear power research center at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, Iran is taking steps to establish its own cyberwar fighting team.  The plan to recruit hackers for government work will mean high paying salaries for technology savvy recruits.  The nature of the work, according to some analysts, might not be known directly to the hired hackers who could be making software for purposes that could ultimately but not necessarily lead to the creation of a worm without their knowledge.  The costs of cyberwarfare, according to officials, are minimal in that it is a relatively cheap operation to undertake and it doesn’t cause casualties, but can have far-reaching consequences.  It is uncertain, however, what the full potential of an Iranian cyberattacking unit would be.  In relation to cyberwarfare, the Stuxnet worm is thought to have set back Iranian’s nuclear program a full two years with its direct origins being relatively unknown.  One American official has stated that inside knowledge of the Iranian facility would have been necessary to make the worm a success.  Conversely, it would be extremely difficult for Iran to carry out a similar attack on America because of the tight security associated with United States infrastructure.  Even so, such an attack would be viewed as a provocation to war.

As technological modernism grapples society and brings in a new age of warfare, countries will be developing highly sophisticated computer software that has the possibility of crippling infrastructure and governments.  Economies are highly reliant on computer systems to store vital information to help keep countries running.  Dangerous cyber technology in the hands of shady people, governments, or organizations could lead to crippling costs for countries and could severely damage economies.  Therefore, it is imperative to pursue security defenses against such attacks and pinpointed vulnerabilities in systems.  In order to remain safe and to protect national interest, the United States needs to lead in cyber defense and be prepared for likely future attacks on its systems while progressing its technological capabilities superiorly.

–          Patrick

Mexican Municipalities Revamp Police Forces

In Mexico, the state and federal police and military are the organizations designed to combat organized crime, including drug trafficking. Recently however, some municipalities within the states have begun to better equip their police units to protect their own towns.  Local mayors feel that their is too much social discontent that the federal government is not properly addressing, so they have taken action into their own hands. There is currently a bill in Congress proposed by President Calderon to do away with municipal police forces, but legislators have stalled its progress.  This bill would put municipal forces under the command of the state, which is thought to standarize training, decrease corruption, and increase professionalism.  Some legislators, however, fear putting to much power in the reach of state forces because of their corruption and links to organized crime.  Since the federal government is stalled, mayors have propped up their own forces to protects their people. The municipal police still typically avoid any confrontation with drug cartels and gangs because of the high risk, but they are increasing their training in order to handle less violent situations.  The drug cartels often target police with bribes, threats, and offers for better pay, but most municipal forces realize the brevity of that type of life.  Thus, the mayors are doing their best to reduce the corruption levels and provide officer jobs for their people, since there is little to no alternate work.


US Convicts Somali Pirates

Five men convicted of piracy after trying to capture a US Navy ship were found guilty in November in a Norfolk, VA court. The sentence was issued earlier today by Judge Mark Davis. Not only are these men the first to be found guilty of piracy in the US since 1820, but have been given the longest sentence in US history for the crime (the last guy was hung). They will serve a minimum of life in prison for piracy and the judge tacked on another 80 years for firearms charges, just for good measure.
The Somali men are the first to be tried in a US court since the sudden boom of pirate activity in the Gulf of Aden starting in March 2010. But there will be more to come, as 13 suspected pirates have been indicted for the murder of the passengers on a private US yacht and will soon join their countrymen.

The BBC’s website quotes US Attorney Neil MacBride saying that the sentences imposed on the convicted Somali men would be a warning to other pirates that attacking the United States government or citizens would be met with severe consequences.  There was no mention of any type of international cooperation on the matter of policy towards piracy or any international norms in handling the trials and sentences of convicted pirates.  In order to keep the trials more fair and consistent, some kind of international law and practice should be agreed upon.  This would reduce the possibility of pirates receiving lighter/harsher sentences from different nations.  It is good that the convicted Somali pirates are being held to some standard of law, but US law does not conform with that of the rest of the world.


Israel increases construction on West Bank

Israel announced, after a recent slow down, that it will increase government sponsored housing construction in West Bank settlements in response to violence that killed five Jewish families in Itamar. The Palestinian Authority has openly objected to these settlements in the past, and any increase in construction is likely to further aggravate Israeli-Palestinian tensions and lead to more conflict in the future. The Israeli government has defended itself by declaring that “They shoot, we build” and their actions are in response to the the violence against Israelis. However, the parties responsible for the killings have not yet been identified.


North Korean Earthquake Security

Last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan raises the question of what would happen in a similar event in North Korea.  Of all the damage sustained by Japan, perhaps the most dangerous  is the potential for a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  An explosion in one of the plant’s three nuclear reactors means the reactor could leak radioactive gases and materials, possibly reaching as fas as the west coast of the U.S. if the winds were favorable to carry the materials across the Pacific.

If a disaster similar to this were to happen in North Korea, the effects could be even more devastating.  North Korea has experienced several earthquakes over the past few years ranging from insignificant to as high as magnitude 6.8 last year, which has the potential to be destructive over a 100 mile radius.  With such a catastrophe occurring in such an advanced nation like Japan, a similar quake in North Korea could easily be many times more devastating because they probably lack strict building codes and construction methods that protect more advanced nations from earthquakes.  The potential for faulty and substandard constructions and a relative lack of experts in handling natural disasters in North Korea mean even a minor incident could quickly escalate and be mishandled leading to more devastating effects on the country, the region, and possibly the world.

If a North Korean nuclear site, power plant, or weapons facility were damaged, consequences could be dire.  State secrecy would probably mean that the government would attempt to cover up any damage either because of a sense of pride and nationalism or in an attempt to hide their nuclear programs from the international community.  This means any information that could allow other nations to prepate would be delayed, possibly until the disaster has reached catastrophic levels and American lives and national security are at risk.  Japanese officials have been constantly communicating with the rest of the world and have accepted American help in dealing with the crisis, something that the Koreans would be incredibly reluctant to do until they realize the crisis is out of their control.

Article on Fukushima Daiichi plant:

Interactive diagram of how a meltdown occurs:


Iran’s reaction to Stuxnet

Iran is reportedly ready to strike back and prove that it can stand its ground in the cyber world.  According to an Iranian newspaper, hackers from the Revolutionary Guard’s paramilitary Basij group have waged cyber attacks on enemy websites.

In January, Iran announced that it had formed the country’s “first cyber police unit in an attempt by authorities to gain an edge in the digital world.”The unit is reportedly made up of teachers, students and cleric and is aimed at retaliating against those who attack Iraq.

The article notes that Iran has been put on the defensive thanks, in part, to Stuxnet.  Therefore, the country is trying to bolster its cyber capabilities and be ready to go on the offensive in a possible future  “soft war”.

This article is a continuation of our in-class discussion on Stuxnet and cyberwarfare.  It proves the severity and complexity of cybersecurity.  A country like Iran, with known nuclear capabilities is also exploring and putting an emphasis on developing its cyber realm.  Future cyber confrontations could be a new type of warfare between the United States and Iran.\\


Return top