Archive for February, 2012

The end of Al-Qaeda or a new evolution?

Audrey Kurth Cronin’s article “How al-Qaida Ends” poses some interesting questions about the nature of Al-Qaida and highlights the problems with terrorism research in general. Terrorist organizations spring forth to address different grievances and are organized to reflect the conditions under which they emerge. The current literature on terrorist organizations tends to focus on the formation of groups, with little emphasis on how organizations end. While rational, this doesn’t help form a structural model on how a group will end.


Cronin compares the rise and fall of a few well known terrorist organizations, as well as some more obscure groups to draw similiarities out into the open. Different groups have ended their activities for different reasons. The Shining Path lost their charismatic leader, and with him all momentum. The Provisional Irish Republican Army and the African National Congress put away bombs to become legitimate political actors. The Weather Underground simply couldn’t inspire another generation. The Chechan separatist movement lost significant public support in response to a Russian military crackdown. Each of these terrorist organizations met a fate that was intrinsic to its organizational nature.


The third section of Cronin’s article evaluates al-Qaida’s unique nature as a decentralized umbrella organization which uses distributed decision-making and harnesses the tools of globalization to rapidly deseminate ideas and tactics, in the name of global jihad. Al-Qaida isn’t a world-beater, but they have organized themselves to be robust and agile while continuing to evolve in accordance with a long-term strategy.


Contemporary terrorists organizations are learning from al-Qaida, and imitating the decentralized structure which allows ad-hoc membership and information sharing, uses informal financial services like the hawala network and the Black Market Peso Exchange. This flexible structure enables distributed groups to commuincate, coordinate and offer support to fellow fighters around the world, provided they have an internet conncection.


There are few viable avenues to eliminate an agile organization which is designed to evolve with state response, and the policy implications for the US are dire. The nature of terrorism relies on siezing the initiative, and exploiting the tremendous feedback loops they can exacerbate within a state. Al-Qaida stands not just as a direct threat, but also represents a plausible promise that similarly structured organizations can strike deep into enemy territory.


How will Al-Qaida end? Not with a whimper, but with a bang.


~Brian D.

Full Article can be found in International Security, Vol 31, Number 1, Summer 2006, p7-48

Bomb to Belong : The Rationality of Terrorism

In his article “What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy,” Max Abrahms argues that terrorists do not act to forward a political agenda. Rather, Abrahms asserts that terrorists act in order to forward the sense of community and belonging that they find in their terrorist association.

Through a critique of the “strategic model” of explaining terrorist activity, Abrahms convincingly argues that terrorism seems counter-productive in many regards when working under the assumption that all actions are working towards the goal of forwarding the group’s political agenda. Through studies done on members of various different terrorist organizations, Abrahms sways us to see that an “organization theory” easily explains why these groups and persons do what they do.

Abrahms points out that there is a specific kind of person that is likely to become a terrorist: one that is alienated from society, not really going anywhere in life, and has friends or family that are members of a terrorist group. People with these identifiers join terrorist organizations to have a sense of community, of belonging. They then engage in acts of terrorism to strengthen their ties to this community. Politics has nothing to do with it.

This seems completely rational. Think about it on a slightly less destructive level: high school punks. Imagine the stereotypical group of kids in high school that engage in random acts of vandalism (i.e. spray painting expletives on the gym or egging teachers’ cars). What kind of kids come to mind? Those that are somewhat marginalized by the rest of the student body. Do their actions hope to gain anything as far as new policy from the school administrators or the school board? No. They simply do what they do to further their sense of community amongst themselves. There are no extrinsic ends they are trying to achieve.

What does this mean for counterterrorism though? Abrahms argues that nations need to be working to identify persons that fit into the category of one that is probable to join terrorist organizations. He also argues that nations need to work to rectify their issues of bigotry, hate-crimes, etc. But wouldn’t a new kind of profiling (one that focuses on how alienated you are and who you know that are known terrorists) still going to produce a climate that is conducive to the creation of bigoted ideas? Won’t any kind of profiling lead to some people becoming prejudiced against that profiled group? And would that not then feed the feelings of alienation by the profiled group, leading them to want to find and/or create a community of themselves even more? This policy suggestion seems counterproductive.

Abrahms also argues for creating more double agents in terrorism organizations in order to cause them to implode from distrust of their members. I think this has the potential to be a viable option for counterterrorism, but also has a high likelihood for backfiring. Once one double agent is discovered, as they likely are to be once others are turned in after working with them, the life of the double agent is in jeopardy. Any person that was detained by the U.S., or any other nation hostile to terrorism, for any length of time and then released again is going to then be suspect of being a double agent, whether they are or not. Their lives are then in danger as well.

I buy into Abrahms’ argument that terrorists “bomb to belong,” so to speak, rather than act in the hope of achieving political gains. However, his policy suggestions for moving forward with counterterrorism based on this new idea of the desires of the organizations do not seem to be very viable options. More needs to be done to work to find out how to engage potential terrorists with mainstream society while also working to warm society up to them at the same time.

– Chapin –

For the complete article by Abrahms please see : International Security, Volume 32, No. 4 (p.78-105) 

U.S. Intelligence sees little threat from Iran nuclear program; Israel does

US intelligence agencies have found little evidence to believe that Iran plans to build a nuclear bomb. Agencies continue to affirm the view of a 2007 report that Iran has halted all efforts to develop an atomic bomb. However, agencies do agree that Iran has been pursuing research that could put it in a position to develop such a bomb. While US officials are calmed by this intelligence reporting, Israel continues to feel extremely threatened by Iran. Israel does not argue with the US intelligence reports, but feels Iran is much more of a threat to its livelihood than to that of the United States. In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency has issued a report claiming “serious concerns” about possible military involvement in Iran’s nuclear program. Still, many of the reports consulted for this post state that little is known on exactly how much intel these US agencies have on the Iran nuclear program. They could just be skimming over the tip of the iceberg.

On the one hand Iran’s nuclear program–or what there is of it–seems to little affect the US but on the other hand it seriously scares Israel. The issue here is that Israel is a US ally. After Bush’s false accusations of Iraq’s nuclear program in 2003, I can see why the intelligence community is wary to scream fire when there is barely a spark. However, what will the US do when/if Israel asks for its help in pursuing offensive strategies against Iran? One can only hope the US will by that point have more intel on the situation in Iran so as to make a more valid assumption on Iran’s doings. Reza Marashi, a former US State Department officer and current official at the National Iranian American Council says that US intelligence reduced concern over Iran’s program gives diplomacy more of an opportunity to work. I can’t argue with that. America certainly does not need a second Iraq War so an increased effort towards diplomacy is greatly appreciated. However, for the safety of its citizens, US intel must know where to draw the line–should it detect Iran moving towards building nukes, it needs to speak up. And loudly.


Kim Jong Un talking smack – Typical rhetoric, or something else?

This post is actually on the article that comments on an article yesterday talking about Kim Jong-Un threatening a “great retaliatory strike” against South Korea and the United States if their (US and SK) joint military war games go even .0001 into North Korea waters, which are disputable at best. As some may recall, this incident has actually been followed up with attacks before, such as the 2010 North Korea artillery attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, leaving four South Koreans dead and launching a defensive South Korea artillery attack against North Korea. While the South Koreans and the United States have long maintained that the war games are only for North Korean deterrence, and not any sort of provocation, North Korea has always said otherwise, often calling the joint exercises “threats from war mongers”. The article that talks about the previous article cornering the actual statement delves into the meaning behind the rhetoric.The article comments that the rhetoric seemed to be more threatening and more inflammatory than usual, which raises questions about the nature of Kim Jong-Un and what he means by these remarks. Is he truly threatened by these exercises (most of which are done by computer), or is he simply asserting his dominance and proving himself in a military based regime, winning over the loyalty of his father’s followers who might not have accepted him yet?

I believe the latter, as the new leader of North Korea isn’t stupid enough to start a whole war which he cannot win while only being in office for less than a year. Unfortunately, Kim Jong-Un probably does have to prove himself to his father’s advisers, seeing as the whole of the intelligence committee has said that Kim Jong-Un did not have nearly as time to be considered “legitimate” in the eyes of the North Korean elite as Kim Jong-il did with his father, Kim Il-Sung. I believe that this situation will blow over in the following weeks (the war games are only two weeks long), and that once this annual exercise is done, talks for stabilizing the Korean peninsula can make a come back, with a new leader that might be willing to take the first step to change his country for the better.



-Jon Schuler

Israel Distractions Frustrate Palestine

Palestine is fully consumed at the moment with the conflict and continuing peace efforts with Israel. Israel is not. This is limiting Palestine’s ability to make any progress or find any available options. At the same time, the US, who is an important factor in the conflict, is focusing much of its current attention on the distraction of a presidential election. Israel is also about to go through an election of its own, adding more to its plate. Israel is trying to deal with a lot of issues all at once and this is frustrating Palestine. Israel’s main concern at the present time is Iran. Iran’s pending nuclear program is posing an extreme threat to Israel, and they are fully preoccupied as they deal with this problem. According to this article, Israel doesn’t mind the distraction. The journalist who wrote it, Ghassan Khatib says “Ongoing rhetoric of the Iranian leadership is aiding Israel in justifying its policies and escaping its responsibilities.” This seems like an oversimplification of the issue. Iran is not thankful for the distraction, as they are concerned with the possibility of a nuclear weapon war with a country who’s leadership is pledging to wipe them off the map. Palestine is concerned with this as well because Israel affects them so directly. Their ability to regulate their people is reliant on peace efforts. They are unable to hold a credible and proper election because there is such a large physical separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Concerning the impending Palestinian elections, Israel is ensuring that they don’t go over smoothly by continuing Israeli military checkpoints and patrols on the area between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This is just another thing that Israel has to deal with. However between the oncoming Israeli elections, and the security threat being posed by Iran, Palestine cannot be the first thing in Israel’s radar.

– Samantha

US envoy meeting with NK officials for another nuclear talk

A U.S. envoy is meeting with North Korean officials in Beijing on Thursday to talk about North Korea’s nuclear program, the first of these talks since the recent death of the previous leader, Kim Jong Il. A Special Representative for North Korea Policy, Glyn Davies, is holding the talks with North Korea’s Kim Kye Gwan. The discussions are the first high-level contact since Kim Jong Il, who had ruled North Korea since 1994, died in December and his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, took power. Davies stated that “My hope is that we can find a way to move forward with the North”. However, North Korea has warned South Korea and any other countries not to expect any change in its policies under Kim Jong Un. The United States hopes the talks Thursday signal the regime’s desire to negotiate with the United States and the rest of the world over its nuclear program. Kim Jong Il’s recent death threw into flux the U.S. plans for diplomacy with North Korea, which would of  included formal talks on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program and possible resumption of U.S. food assistance. The North Korea government was thought to be considering the suspension of its uranium enrichment in exchange for food assistance as part of a deal that was to be announced around the time of Kim Jong Il’s death. Davies said he also plans to raise the other issues of great concern, including nonproliferation, human rights and humanitarian affairs.

I feel this is a great chance for the United States to get on top of things when it comes to the situation on the Korean peninsula. IF the United States could convince Kim Jong Un to at least freeze its nuclear program (which is a lot more appealing to North Korea when compared with dismantling it right away), then that would  be a  step in the right direction. i think it is also important to note the other equally pressing issues that Davies intends to bring it. If the United States would focus more so on changing the nature of the regime, and not just focus on one aspect (nuclear development), i feel the United States and the rest of the international community would be able to make more progress with North Korea overall.

-Jon Schuler


Righting the Wrongs or Writing the Wrongs: US Policy Towards Bahrain

Just over a year ago, the Arab Spring came to Bahrain in a radical way. Protestors hit the streets with very specific demands: they wanted a parliament with more power, a constitutional monarchy, and more personal freedoms. Such a precise list of demands was unprecedented in a region where protests were brought on by a simple discontentment with the socioeconomic and political status quo. Ultimately, the demands were not met; in fact, the protests were crushed almost immediately by a combination of forces from the Bahraini regime, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The combination of these powerful actors literally rolled tanks through the streets of Manama and destroyed any opposition they encountered.


Now, one year later, things have changed very little. The opposition continues to protest, though no longer in Manama, which has been functionally turned into a military zone, accessible to only about three buildings’ worth of people. For the one year anniversary of the initial uprising, there were rumors of a collective opposition march to retake the original protest point (called the Pearl Roundabout in the heart of Manama). The police, with the help of Saudi and UAE forces, began to tear gas anything they considered part of the opposition. This included public poetry readings, funerals, and any above average gatherings. All of them faced tear gas and stun grenades, originally provided by the US and UK.


The US continues to ignore the horrific events that the Bahraini people are facing at the hands of the ruling Al Khalifa family. Some have gone as far as to say that the US-Bahraini relationship is similar to the Russo-Syrian relationship. Both sides have military ties to their respective allies (the US 5th Fleet is housed in Bahrain and is viewed as a key check on Iran’s regional power), so in some senses the analogy is accurate. These comparisons draw on a larger issue of US policy: America risks a major blow to its democratic and human rights credibility if it continues to not only ignore, but support the Al Khalifa monarchy. It cannot effectively deliver an international message of human rights or democratic freedom while continuing to provide arms to the Gulf protests. The only way to keep a sustainable degree of legitimacy as the US approaches treacherous minefields like the massacres in Syria and the NGO crisis in Egypt is to ensure that it speaks with a consistent voice. This necessitates changing the US stance on the violence in Bahrain.



The UK Making Waves in Upcoming Energy Field

The idea of not having to involve the United States in turbulent regions of the globe like the Middle East to secure energy resources is enticing to say the least. In previous posts I have discussed the possibility of US energy independence that would retract our fingers from such “sticky situations,” and articles published in the last couple days would expedite such a retraction. The United Kingdom has the largest wave and tidal resources in Europe, and it is in the position to harness them for marine energy technologies.

On Sunday, a parliamentary committee on energy and climate change headed by Tim Yeo proposed for Britain to zero in on the opportunity to lead the world in marine energy. The committee wants the country to focus on reducing costs and setting deployment targets beyond 2020, which is when the current technologies are likely to begin making a significant contribution to the UK’s energy supply. The key here, though, is that the Energy and Climate Change Committee is thinking ahead to when the UK could be the leading exporter of wave and tidal power equipment and expertise. Sometimes it is quite nice to have allies on an island across the pond, eh? The United States and other allies of Britain could benefit greatly from shared technologies, decreasing the states’ dependence on non-renewable energy sources like oil. A decreased dependency on oil would likely lead to less involvement in oil-rich areas, keeping troops at home and not putting national security at risk by overextending states’ resources. While I certainly hope the British government is willing to provide funds for the committee’s proposals, I also think it would be in the best interest of American and other foreign investors to think about lending to the project, as the benefits would certainly not isolate themselves to that little island.


Chinese Black Programs?


Scary, interesting, and mysterious are my three words to describe the satellite pictures that I have stumbled across of multiple structures that have been built in remote parts of China.


 I have seen multiple pictures of structures like this one (above ); apparently it is of huge metallic stripes. This is a satellite pictures taken of an area located in Dunhuang, Jiuquan, Gansu, north of the Shule River – according to Gizmodo, “It covers an area approximately one mile long by more than 3,000 feet wide.”


This second pictures is of another type of structure which is also north of the Shule river. It is west of an electrical or radio station that bears some resemblance to the United States’ HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program).  


This third picture seems to be of one of the more puzzling structures China has built. According to Gizmodo, it is thousands of lines intersecting in a titanic grid that is about 18 miles long.

There are also a couple more different types of structures ranging from massive groups of antennas to some kind of water cooling tanks in the middle of nowhere.

So what are these structures? No one, or at least none of the sites that actually report on them, have any clear understanding of what they are. There are a couple of possible answers that keep reoccurring  ranging from the possibility of targeting/calibrating grid for Chinese spy satellites, to military experiments, to the more out there answer of QR codes for aliens.

Whatever these structures are one fact keeps surfacing. Since 2004 someone/some company has been ordering that photos be taken of these structures, especially through the DigitalGlobe layer in Google Earth. This is strange since most militaries which would spy on something like this (the US military) have their own more precise means of getting satellite images. According to former CIA analyst Allen Thomson, whoever is responsible for this type of request for such images it “can’t have been cheap.”

My questions are:

Is this a military experiment?

Was China trying to hide this?

What are the implications of these things being the result of some kind of advanced testing?

Is China concerned that someone is focusing on their structures so much?

Does China have their own HAARP?



Gauging India’s Role in Iran

Officials in both the United States and India like to boast that the strategic U.S.-India partnership is a source of “value and strength” that will only deepen as the geopolitical landscape shifts in the 21th century. Indeed, friendship is a “slow ripening fruit,” as the old adage goes, and U.S.-Indian relations have some sorting out to do.

Recently, Indian authorities stirred controversy with their American allies by announcing that India would be sending an official trade delegation to Tehran  in the coming month to pursue further economic opportunities with Iran – a huge blow to the West, particularly as the U.S. has put pressure on India to assist in its efforts to isolate Persia. With the emergence of recent data that lists India as the number one importer of Iranian petroleum (eclipsing China for the first time), the likelihood that India will comply with the U.S.’ requests to its Asian allies  to favor non-Iranian oil sources is dwindling.  Indian officials allude to their country’s teetering economic growth rate, which is strapped down by its high current account deficit, as reason for their inability to withdraw from their largest exporter of crude oil. Refineries throughout the subcontinent that are only built to run on Iranian crude would also need to be retrofitted, also driving up the potential costs. “To shift is not something that can be done very easily. Where would we get that refining capacity?” a leading Indian official (who wished to remain anonymous) asked. “Who would be our new suppliers?” The economic impact on Iran is also a risk that India is not willing to take, as social unrest in Iran could threaten job security for Indian migrants throughout the Gulf (who send home nearly $50 billion via remittances).

Others have speculated that India might have other concerns up its sleeve, particularly in the country’s aims to recover its formerly stable relations with Iran as the U.S.’ withdrawal from Central Asia nears and India’s role in the region elevates.  “They are attempting to do it now out of some serious concerns about what may happen after 2014, or earlier,” K.P. Singh, former Indian ambassador to Iran, has said.

Western political analysts aren’t giving  these arguments much credibility, however. “For all the talk about India rising to become a global power, its government doesn’t always act like one,” disputed  R. Nicholas Burns in The Diplomat this week. “It is all too often focused on its own region but not much beyond it. And, it very seldom provides the kind of concrete leadership on tough issues that is necessary for the smooth functioning of the international system.” India must increase its commitment to its partnership with the U.S. by clenching its fist at Iran, writes Burns, if the country wants the possibility of permanent membership in the UNSC to become a reality.

Of course, counters blogger Greg Scoblete, “If India wants a good relationship with the United States, they shouldn’t do business with America’s enemies. After all, the U.S. has certainly held itself to that standard with India’s enemies. Right?”

What should India do in this situation? How should the U.S. respond if India maintains its close economic ties to Iran? India undoubtedly has a lot of leverage in the region, and stopping its shipments of Iranian crude would send a firm message to Tehran. But further economic woes in India aren’t good for the region’s stability either. If the U.S. and Western Europe want India to seek oil sources from other countries, I’d recommend they provide Indian officials with clear-cut, cost-effective, and viable alternatives to Iranian petroleum.




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