Archive for October, 2012

Secretary of Defense Panetta Talks Cybersecurity

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addressed the threat of cybersecurity last week in a speech to the Business Executives for National Security. Panetta’s main focus was to bring awareness to the fact that cyber attacks exist, they’re growing in intensity, and that the U.S. needs to react to protect itself from cyber attacks. Panetta and others have labeled cyber attacks as having the collective power to be a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

Cyber warfare is as real and as dangerous as terrorism or nuclear weapons threats. Panetta pointed out that the Department of Defense has a role in cyber security and that it is currently developing a plan to deal with it. The DoD has 3 goals to defend against cyber attacks:

1-Developing new capabilities-over $3 billion invested in training and recruiting to further enhance and maintain our cyber security system

2-Putting in place policies and organizations needed to fulflll the mission-creating red lines and determining that the DoD has a “responsibility, not only to defend” U.S. networks but national interests, too.

3-Strong partnerships-need to share information with the private sector to protect it and cooperate with allies to share threat information

Panetta is calling for pressure on Congress to pass legislation that will protect the U.S. and allow stronger cyber defenses. Panetta’s speech further brought attention to the growing cyber threat. The good news is the U.S. is still the leader in cutting edge technology and the intelligence sector. However, it is time for America to develop stronger defenses and an awareness that cyber attacks against it are increasingly powerful and have the potential to be as detrimental as a terrorist or biological attack.


Japan Buys a Future Friendship with Myanmar

A Japanese NGO, in conjunction with the Japanese government, announced plans to resume funneling aid to minority groups in Myanmar at a recent conference. The $3 million in aid will be sent to minority groups hiding in remote parts of Myanmar after the country’s junta last year. The government of Myanmar approved the transfer of aid, despite the fact that some of the aid will be sent to groups who are still actively engaged in combat with the government. Japan is happy to be allowed to send aid to Myanmar as they are hoping to gain an investment advantage in the country over China and by ensuring a peaceful government transition.


The decision by the Myanmar government to allow aid from Japan to be sent to its enemies is a difficult one to understand. The government is hoping that by showing some leniency, the fighting in the country will stop and the groups will accept the government’s power. This, however, is unlikely to work. The ability to build a relationship with Myanmar is likely to be beneficial for Japan. In the future, when Myanmar again opens to trade, Japan will be one of the first countries to be able to take advantage of the new opportunities.



Kurdistan defies Baghdad

Tension continues to escalate in the region as Iraqi and Kurdistan governments struggle for power along the two countries borders. In the past there has been a long standing tension between the two states dating back to the rise of the Baath party in Iraq in the 60’s. With the removal of Saddam and the Baath party however things are still tense due to recent actions taken by both sides. In a recent development the Kurdistan government has started to export oil internationally through an independent contract it has made with Exxon Mobil. The Iraqi government is angered by this due to it having claims on oil in six kurdish blocs yet Kurdistan has developed and is now exporting that oil. The Iraq government is now demanding that the US get a handle on Exxon Mobil as it is likely to become,”a potential flashpoint as tensions between regions of Iraq rise.” To add to this dilemma a new bill in the Iraqi government has been proposed to draw new borders among the provinces of Iraq which officials say will threaten existing blocs and, “could revive national, sectarian and ethnic conflict.” Many Iraq government officials are against the bill however the Kurdistan Alliance fully welcomes the bill saying that it will solve raging disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government.

Iraq still proves to be unstable with what it appears to be on the brink of sectarian conflict at every turn. Foreign as well as regional interests threaten to undermine an already shaky government. With the potential to lose substantial and extremely vital revenue to the claims of the Northern Iraq oil fields, the US will most likely need to take action in helping Kurdistan and Iraq settle their affairs. A good place to start would be to help the negotiation of claims on the Northern Iraq oil field and to do what they can in reigning in Exxon Mobil in their negotiations as well. The US policy should be to try and do what they can to contain and prevent any sort of sectarian tension/ conflict that arises by being a moderator in the region.



Carter Critical of Netanyahu, Obama

In the most recent of his many trips to Israel, former President Jimmy Carter has been outspoken in his criticism of what he sees as  Netanyahu’s shift towards a one state solution and President Obama’s dormancy on the issue.  President Carter said that despite Netanyahu’s rhetoric, his actions have brought the two state solution to its “death throes,” specifically citing the increasing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Netanyahu’s unwillingness to negotiate with Palestinian leaders.  Additionally, Carter criticized Pres. Obama’s unassertive response to Netanyahu, saying “The US government policy the last two to three years has basically been a rapid withdrawal from any kind of controversy…Every president has been a very powerful factor here in advocating this two-state solution.  That is not not apparent.”  In a further critique of the Obama administration’s approach to the situation, Carter urged the Palestinians to continue their statehood bid with the UN and to reconcile inter-Palestinian conflicts between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

Carter’s statements raise two key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: What solution is most appropriate and what role should the US play in bringing that about?  Carter (obviously) favors a two-state solution, as do the majority of Israeli’s and Palestinians according to a poll cited in the article.  However, the article says, recently there has been increased discussion among the intelligentsia of both sides favoring a binational one-state solution, wherein both Palestinians and Israelis would live together under one government.  To Carter this would be “a catastrophe – not for the Palestinians, for Israel.” A two-state solution would grant the Palestinians sovereign control over the West Bank and Gaza and would fall in line with the international norm of self-determination which (among other things) led to the creation of Israel in the first place. However, it is possible that a two-state solution would serve to reify and deepen the Israeli-Palestinian divide, leading to further conflicts and violence between the two.  A one-state solution, provided it received popular and intellectual support from both sides, could foster mediation and cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  However, this is not merely a cultural divide, but an antithetical religious and geopolitical difference.  A binational state may be too unstable to be a satisfactory solution.

Is it the role of the US President to intervene in the situation to push in favor of one solution or another? To Carter, who arbitrated the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt (arguably America’s most successful foreign policy initiative in the conflict), seems very in favor of US intervention.  However, Carter’s intervention seems to be more nuanced than other presidents’ approaches.  Rather than pushing for a specific solution that would benefit the United States regardless of the regional repercussions, Carter seems to recognize the inherent benefits of regional stability and sees the United States as powerful third party arbiter to those ends.


The United Nations v.s M23 Rebels

The article highlights the United Nation’s decision regarding its involvement in the conflict that is unraveling in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN is planning to impose sanctions on the leaders of the M23 rebel group that has been fighting the nation’s government since the beginning of the year. Rwanda and Uganda, neighboring countries of Congo, have been accused both by international and Congolese officials, of providing arms and military support to the rebel group. UN reports have bolstered the accusations against these nations and the international community is demanding that the provisions stop. However, the United Nations has temporarily accorded Rwanda a Security Council seat, which officials at the council have not opposed despite the rebel-affiliation allegations.

The actions taken by the organization towards the conflict are worth discussing. The United Nations is often criticized for having very little enforcement power in terms of the regulations and conditions it “imposes” on a country. Consequently, that “power” is extremely undermined when restrictions are applied to non-state actors. The efficacy of these sanctions is largely questionable. However, if giving a seat to Rwanda in the Security Council is a method to deter its government from providing military aid to the rebels, then that is the most efficient step the United Nations has taken in this conflict and it should continue along this route; including the alleged nations in the peace-building process. However, direct sanctions from the UN are worthless, in my opinion, considering these rebels may have a broader network to acquire arms then the one the UN monitors and because the UN does not have the means to enforce its demands.


When Asia Sneezes, the Global Economy Catches a Cold

While I’ve certainly pointed out the security risks of potential conflict over the ongoing South/East China Sea island disputes in this blog, the territorial tugs of war have also spilled over into the economic sphere. Recent economic figures highlight the danger to the global financial recovery posed by these diplomatic spats, especially the struggle for the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands between the world’s second and third largest economies (China and Japan, respectively). Trade between the two has lessened significantly since the feud’s re-ignition this past summer, and the first figures of the cost of the fallout have begun to come to light. For example, Japan’s exports to China  are now down 14.1% compared to a year earlier – significant due to China’s status as Japan’s largest export market.


With the global economy still in the midst of a tepid recovery and threatened by the Euro-Zone’s monetary crisis and America’s looming fiscal cliff, a slowdown of economic activity between the Asia-Pacific’s two argest and most dynamic economies poses yet another risk to the finances of countries the world over. This means that the island disputes constitute not just a security concern in terms of risk of conflict – they threaten the wealth and well-being of the global economy at a particularly fragile time, and the prospect of yet another recession looms large if this and other large issues (such as the Eurozone crisis/U.S. fiscal cliff) are not soon resolved. Economic dire straits are sure to only compound the gamut of security issues already present on the plate of countries the world over. It would seem that economists and investors have just at much (if not more) at stake in the calming of the China seas.

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-William Kyle

Whispers of Military Coup Trigger Unease in South Sudan

In response to rumors of a potential military coup, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and Vice Presdient Riek Machar quickly shot down the rumors and tried to reassert the positive image of  the new nation.  The source of these rumors have yet to be verified, but they posed enough of a threat that President Kiir found it necessary to visit the headquarters of the South Sudanese army, the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), to warn against any potential coup plotters.  Both Kiir and Machar made public statements proclaiming that any military coup would not receive international recognition and would be an unwise step in this new nation’s history.

This story has multiple implications for U.S. foreign policy and for overall regional stability.  For the United States, a military coup in South Sudan would be a major setback in the political development of a country that owes a lot of its independence to our support.  Additionally, it is in our interests to see a prosperous and democratic South Sudan providing an effective counter weight to its undemocratic, northern neighbor.  A further view is that a coup could potentially lead to a civil war in South Sudan, which has far reaching implications in the region and for the interests of the United States.

Regional stability would be at stake if a coup were to happen in South Sudan.  The first major concern is that if the SPLA takes power, then either a resumption of war with the North might occur or a potentially devastating civil war among the varying tribes is a possibility.  Another concern is that South Sudan’s attempt to join the East African Community (EAC) could be put on hold or rejected if it is seen as developing into a regional basket case.  A final note to remember is that one must not go far to see how unstable many of South Sudan’s neighbors are and how internal political decisions impact surrounding countries.




Al Qaeda In Afghanistan – Down but Far From Out

Al Qaeda is preparing to fill the power void that will be left in Afghanistan when US troops complete their planned withdrawal in 2014. The group, which has been operating mostly out of Pakistan since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, “are trying to increase their numbers and take advantage of the Americans leaving.” This shift in strategy by the group is evidenced in particular by an increase in weapons movements from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has become more active in “fighting U.S. troops, spreading extremist messages, raising money, recruiting young Afghans and providing military expertise to the Taliban and other radical groups.” According to top generals in Afghanistan, the group has maintained a constant presence in Afghanistan, but has been under constant pressure from coalition forces. With the US and its allies set to depart the county soon, Al Qaeda is eager to reassert its influence in Afghanistan.

The extent to which Al Qaeda has made a comeback is hard to decipher. It is apparent that Al Qaeda is attempting to portray itself as indestructible – an entity with endless support and an iron will. The very presence of Al Qaeda – however small – will help convince the populaces of remote regions that siding with the weak, insecure provincial Governments will be pointless in the face of the inexorable  rebirth and reemergence of both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Some policymakers have stated that Al Qaeda’s reemergence is over-hyped, and that coalition forces are exerting great pressure on the organization. These statements must be taken with a grain of salt, however, because the democratic-controlled White House has a political need for Afghanistan and its security be a non-issue in the upcoming election.  Just as it is important for Al Qaeda to signal it’s strength in Afghanistan, it is equally important for the US to downplay it. US policymakers have largely and publicly dismissed the  mounting evidence of an insecure and volatile Afghanistan in the wake of the US withdrawal, and have similarly been reluctant to label attacks against the US in recent months as terrorist-planned. The political jockeying by both American and Al Qaeda leaders is apparent, and makes it hard to truly gauge the extent to which l Qaeda has made a comeback. Al Qaeda currently poses a greater threat to Global security in North Africa and Yemen than in Afghanistan,  however, the organization’s apparent reemergence in its original base of operations – however small – is a major cause for concern.

– Daniel

The E.U. is standing up to the bully–when will the U.S.?

Last month, the E.U. began an investigation against the Russian national gas monopoly Gazprom claiming that it had blocked fair competition in the natural gas markets of 8 former Soviet bloc states. This case highlights Europe’s struggle to create a competitive fuel market when Russia supplies upwards of 25% of the EU’s fuel needs. The EU has experienced supply stoppages and shortages in the past as Russia has feuded with neighbors like Ukraine, leading it to seek further diversification of its gas supply.

The EU Commission has stated that “such behavior, if established, may constitute a restriction of competition and lead to higher prices and deterioration of security of supply” and Secretary Clinton has said that Russia’s relationship with its European neighbors is “a significant security challenge that we ignore at our peril.”

New York Times op-ed columnist John Vinocur has criticized NATO and the US for being too soft on Putin “telling [him], in effect, he could do as he pleased, with no price to pay” while letting the EU be the first to truly stand up to Russia’s unfair policies.

The U.S. will not take any steps toward putting an end to Russia’s bullying until after the election, but I agree with Vinocur that come 2013, the President may need to speak out against Putin and his policies as they continue to pose a security threat.


Al-Qaeda: still swinging and, thankfully, missing…

On Wednesday October 17, 2012, Quazi Mohammad Reswanul Ahsan Nafis was arrested for attempting to detonate a 1,000 pound car bomb outside of the New York Federal Reserve Bank.  After Nafis came to America from Bangladesh on a student visa, he attempted to form a terrorist cell within the United States so that he could successfully destroy the U.S. from within. Undercover FBI agents from a Joint Terrorist Task Force made contact with Nafis and convinced him that they were interested in taking part in the attack. Although there is no evidence that proves Nafis’ connections with Al-Qaeda, just the fact that he even declared he had those connections proves that the group is still attracting followers and is still a threat to U.S. national security. I found this article to be interesting because it points out numerous points about the role of Al-Qaeda in our more globalized world and how the U.S. Intelligence community has learned how to reduce the risk of successful terrorist attacks.

The article explains that multiple facets of globalization came into play during this case. For one, the interconnectedness of the world was proven by the student visa that Nafis obtained to come to the United States.  Another facet of the interconnectedness of the planet is the ability to communicate easily and quickly. Nafis used Facebook to communicate with others in his terrorist cell and since it was made with his private account, it provided him with the security and privacy necessary for him to express his plan to others. Since 9/11 the FBI has executed multiple undercover sting operations like this to stop terrorists from successfully pulling off attacks in the U.S. So far they have been extremely effective.


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