Archive for November, 2012

A Fading Fatah?

The view in the Palestinian world is that Hamas successfully rebuffed Israel’s attacks their 8 day conflict.  This success by Hamas has revived political momentum for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank.  The two groups diverged after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.  Whereas Hamas seeks to establish an Islamist state and will use violent means to achieve it, Fatah espouses secular nationalism and has sought international recognition of Palestine to achieve this, albeit as a “last ditch effort.”

While there have been conflicts between Hamas and other similar groups in Gaza in the past, the most recent Israeli conflict has solidified, at least temporarily, Hamas’ leadership of the radical wing of the Palestinian movement. The “success” (or at least perceived success in the Palestinian world) of Hamas recently, however, has bought this ideological debate within the Palestinian movement to the forefront.  If Gaza and the West Banka re to act together again, will they follow the model of Fatah and focus on UN recognition, or will they follow the model of Hamas and use violence to establish an Islamist state? The recent conflict would suggest that a combined movement would follow the rubric of Hamas.  PNA President Mahmoud Abbas has already faced political pressure within the West Bank for his passive stance during the conflict and his focus on UN recognition as the road to sovereignty for Palestine.


Foiled coup plot sparks fears in Sudan

The arrest of the Salah Gosh, former head of Sudan’s intelligence and security agency, in addition to 12 others last week, was hailed by officials as a success in stopping a potential coup.  Gosh’s arrests exposes expanding cracks in the ruling National Congress Party and President Omar al-Bashir’s 23-year hold on power in this major African oil-producing nation.  Experts point to multiple factors contributing to the further instability in Khartoum – an ongoing economic crisis spurred since South Sudan became independent in July 2011, high food prices, and the loss of oil revenues, Sudan’s economic lifeblood before the South’s independence.

In the government, all of these pressing issues helped sow divisions within the government and put further pressure on the lucrative patronage networks that Bashir and his allies rely on to maintain their power.  Reformists among the political elite were disappointed by the election of a new secretary-general for the Islamic Movement, who is not a reform-minded member.  Experts on Sudan see this foiled coup plot as an explicit warning to any potential reformists in the ruling elite, so that it is clear that the ruling Islamists will not allow for any future dissent while Bashir remains in power.

Intrigue is part of daily political life in Sudan and the United States will continue to encourage Sudan to allow for a democratic transition to occur.  It appears for now that al-Bashir will remain in power for the time being, but the United States must keep an eye on future power brokers among Sudan’s ruling elite should al-Bashir fall sick.  While this failed coup plot is not a direct threat to the United States, American officials must encourage Sudan to become more democratic and continue to watch how the country and its ruling elite respond to the ongoing economic crisis and what that will mean for the future.


Possible Rocket Test in the DPRK

North Korea is in the news currently for several things. On one end there is the remake of the Cold War Era film Red Dawn which shows a laughable North Korean invasion of the US. Also the weapons from a North Korean assassination attempt on an activist in 2011 have been released to the media. Lastly North Korea is moving to test its newest missiles which.

In earlier posts I wrote about the missile tests and until they actually do launch a missile there is not much to write about. Still if these new rockets prove reliable it puts North Korea into the realm of states with potential nuclear capability and the means to project that capability effectively. If the range on these new missiles is also what the North desires it would put the west coast of the United States in danger. This situation would be unacceptable and if these missiles succeed in their tests the United States and its allies must be prepared to respond to the North Korean threat.

The possibility of a massive North Korean of the US mainland is null but the potential threat from a North Korea armed with long range missiles is large. If these tests fail they will become another of the DPRK’s failed projects. Only time will show though it seems according to news articles that time is coming soon.



Ryan Thompson


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Half Measures Will Prove Pointless in Afghanistan

In a recent article, Kimberly and Frederick Kagan outlined why a US policy of a “light footprint” strategy in Afghanistan will not be successful. The authors illustrate how counter terrorism operations in a future Afghanistan devoid of a substantial US presence would be much less effective. Current counter-terrorism efforts have been largely successful due to the strategic location of several locations to conduct operations, and by providing central landing strips from which drones and flight missions are launched. The Kagans argue that, given the limited flight capabilities of US reconnaissance planes and drones, aircraft carriers cannot be relied on to provide coverage of the whole of the region. Furthermore, the US is in the process of deescalating its troop strength in Afghanistan, which, according to the Kagans, severely limit the capability of US forces to combat Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The authors assert that anything short of the current 68,000 troops will assure that the future US posture in the region will be a weak and defensive one.

The main point of this article is that a limited US presence in Afghanistan makes no sense. If the US wants to proactively eliminate terrorist threats and maintain a strong presence in the region, a large security force is needed in Afghanistan to do so. Conversely, if there is no will on the part of Americans to stay in Afghanistan, then the US should withdraw completely because a long-term, stable presence will be unattainable. The current plan for Afghanistan reflects the political nature of conflict, but does not help us attain realistic goals. If the ultimate plan for Afghanistan is for withdrawal regardless of the level of progress made, then the rational move for the US would be to cut its losses and just leave now.


Doha Talks: More US leadership is needed

On Monday, the UN climate talks began- which included representatives from about 200 countries. The talks are taking place in Doha, Qatar under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The purpose of the talks is to create an international agreement to prevent global warming. Specifically, there is a push to have governments commit to deep carbon cuts to prevents the Earth’s temperature from rising 4 degrees. According to the World Bank and multiple other sources, such an increase would have devastating effects- crop failures, sea level rise, etc.

Analysts expect that “the United States is on track to meet its goal of reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020”. The US has also provided $7.46 billion in international climate assistance over the past three years. I believe that actions like these by the US are a signal that the US is interesting in combating climate change, but it is clear that the US needs to take a greater role. US leadership on climate change would spur greater international cooperation on the issue.


Iran and Qatar’s Competition for Hamas

Qatar and Iran have sparked a new rivalry over the funding of Hamas, a group primarily responsible for the recent violence against Israel. Qatar has been sending aid in the form of money and food to factions of Hamas in Gaza, and Iran has been attempting to bolster Hamas by donating missiles with increased range to help the group bomb Israel. This fight over Hamas’ friendship is not the first argument to pop up between Iran and Qatar, but it has some of the most serious consequences for relations between the two countries.

The security issue here is not only the competition over Hamas’ loyalty, but the indirect consequences for the other countries in the Middle East, especially Israel. Also, with the unstable state of Syria close by, other terrorist factions may begin competing for countries’ aid, which poses a great threat to the security of the state of Israel.


Cyber City

Cyber City is a place designed to look like a real town, including everything from water towers to Wifi at the local coffee shop. Cyber City exists in the virtual realm of cyberspace, its only kinetic form being a tabletop miniature replica. Cyber City is one of many fake environments that serve as cyber ranges and test beds. The goal of these cyber towns is to allow solider-hackers to practice attacking and defending critical networks in a controlled environment.

Designed by Counter Hack, a security firm in New Jersey, Cyber City contains everything a hacker would need. It has “people” with accounts and personal information, it has critical infrastructure like power plants and hospitals, and it has vulnerable Wifi networks that are like Christmas for a hacker. The focus of these cyber training grounds is to train cyber warriors and give them a space to practice actual skills in a safe and controlled environment.

Cyber City is just one of many of similar “towns” being developed. They allow infinite possibilities and scenarios for cyber-soldiers to hone their skills. These cyber ranges are seen as a way to keep pace with other hackers or terrorist organizations looking to attack US networks. It shows that the US views cybersecurity and cyberwarfare as a real threat that must be actively dealt with.





A Turn For The Better?

Today Kurdish and Iraqi troops backed down in the Kurdistan after there was a build up of troops over the contested oil rich region. Both sides agreed to, “start pacifying the situation and discuss a mechanism to return the forces which were deployed after the crisis to their previous positions”. This however is not the first confrontation between Kurdish and Iraqi forces, earlier this year both sides came close to confrontation but also backed down in a similar fashion. Both sides agree that the only solution to this problem is through dialogue and neither side has hinted at possible attack. Nevertheless this second showdown of troops shows just how bad the relations between the two sides has gotten in the past months. In the earlier crisis the US actually stepped in and delegated a peace between the two sides. Will the US have to continue playing the role of a third party negotiator? or will the US need to do more to insure peace in the region? These are questions that the Obama administration will need to be asking itself in the coming days and months.

On a brighter note for the Iraqi government, who not only has had to deal with Kurdistan as a rising threat but also sectarian violence within its own borders, there are official reports that Iraq did not see any sectarian violence during its holy day of Ashura which saw over 2 million Shiite pilgrims travel to Karbala and Baghdad for its celebration. In earlier years there have been many attacks by Sunni extremists on Shiite pilgrims, yet this past weekend marks a milestone for zero sectarian violence. Who knows if this is the start of a possible trend and reversal of violence in this country or just an outlier in a country which has a long history of sectarian violence.


China-India Deal Highlights Cooperation and Tensions

Earlier today, the governments of China and India signed agreements worth billions of dollars inked at an earlier strategic economic dialogue in New Delhi. The deal “included plans for investments in clean energy, infrastructure, electric power, steel and other projects”, representing a new level of interdependence that stands in marked contrast to the large amount of vitriolic rhetoric between the world’s two most populous nations. Despite such political challenges as the unresolved border disputes of Aksai China and Arunachal Pradesh, China’s arming of India’s nemesis Pakistan, India’s harboring of the Dalai Lama, and a history of contemptuous foreign relations (or perhaps because of all of this), the governments in Beijing and New Delhi deem it prudent to seek a larger degree of  economic interdependence. While foreign trade between the two countries is burgeoning (bilateral trade is currently worth approximately $75 billion), nearly all of this is exchanged via extended sea trade routes rather than over their shared borders, indicating just how tense and underdeveloped their disputed territories remain to this day.

I believe the symbolism of the lack of overland trade is important to keep in mind in light of this new deal. As the territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas have displayed in recent months, the economic security of such interconnected countries as Japan and China remains at the mercy of otherwise non-related political/territorial disputes. Japan’s economy has greatly suffered and now threatens recession yet again, arguably a consequence of decreased bilateral trade between itself and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu controversy. While globalization proponents argue that economic interdependence should be pursued as a mechanism to facilitate a simultaneous convergence of interests and relaxation of tensions, in light of the recent spasms of nationalistic vitriol spilling forth from East Asia, India and China may be careful to consider that throwing their economic security into the fray of an already stressed bilateral relationship might not be a guarantee of peaceful coexistence.



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-William Kyle

EPA Denies Request to Relax Ethanol Mandate

Last Friday, the EPA announced that it would not waive the Renewable Fuel Standards that were enacted in 2005 and expanded in 2007. This program mandates that a certain percentage of biofuels make up the nation’s transportation fuel supply.

After this summer’s drought, several states requested that the ethanol mandate be waived due to decreased corn supply. It has been estimated that half of the nation’s corn crop will be used to meet the ethanol mandate this year. After detailed economic analysis, the EPA has stated that the mandate does not “severely harm” the economy.

The mandate was expanded in 2007 under the Energy Independence and Security Act in an attempt to diversify the nation’s energy supply and decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil. At the time, President Bush had declared that America was “addicted to oil” and such heavy reliance on oil undermined the United States’ national security goals.

The current issue of decreased supply and increased demand for corn may only be short term. If the EPA were to repeal the mandate, it would likely slow the development of other biofuels products that are not derived from food sources. However, if food prices continue to rise, the U.S. may be facing a weaker economy and increased conflict in hungrier areas of the globe.


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