Archive for January, 2013

Israel’s Fear Over Syrian Chemical Weapons

Israel is growing concerned about the transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons. It worries that the weapons could either fall into the hands of Hezbollah or extremist opposition groups that may be al Qaeda extremists. Israel will use military force in order to secure Syria’s chemical weapon. The article below points out that Iran threatened to attack any country that intervenes in Syria, thereby creating the possibility of an Iranian-Israeli conflict.
The regime would not willingly transfer the weapons to al-Qaeda affiliates, as they are part of the opposition. Their obtainment of the weapons would only occur in the wake of the regime’s collapse, which could come soon since Assad’s own mother recently defected to the UAE. A transfer to Hezbollah could occur, as could a transfer to Iran. The immediate threat to Israel from these two possibilities has to do with its borders. Hezbollah operates from Southern Lebanon, which borders Israel. They fear that chemical weapons could be used on them from the border. A similar threat arises from al-Qaeda affiliates. Since the Syrian Civil War began, Assad moved the Syrian military away from the Golan Heights. As a result, many of the more extreme opposition groups have moved into the area. Israel worries that the weapons could be used against them at the Golan. These fears are valid and it is important that the weapons be secure.
At the same time, despite its talk, it is unlikely that Iran will enter into a conflict with Israel if it secures the weapons militarily. Iran has not fought an offensive war and prides itself on that fact. It is the victim and underdog in wars according to its views, and that’s how it rallies its nation during times of war. If they were to engage Israel on Syria’s behalf it is unclear how it would play out on its domestic front. It is unlikely that it is a threat it would follow through on.

A Delicate Balance

As our nation dependence on the use of computer and internet networks increases, so does the level of risk involved. Government agencies exchange pertinent information related to any  number of high profile discussions or cases through secure networks. Add private sector companies who subcontract for the government with access to that information and it becomes quite clear that cyber-security needs to be a priority for the security of our nation.

President Obama has attempted to introduce unilateral and comprehensive cyber-security agenda plans but this has received sharp criticism from conservatives. According to the article, the plan would essentially give government agencies more control and oversight over the digital infrastructure of the private sector; a highly debated topic. The author, Kennith Corbin, of the article below argues that the current administration should not pass, “any measure that would expand government oversight over digital infrastructure owned and operated by the private sector.”

Corbin offers a solid argument and valid conclusion but he seems to too heavily favor the protection of the private companies. These companies are being entrusted with vital information that could have serious impacts on our nations security should it be compromised. It is our governments responsibility to protect said information, and if private companies are not up to par then the government should have a system in place where it can step up and do the job.



French Forces Push North in Mali – But Unsure After

As of this past weekend, French forces began a push through the rebel-controlled northern Mali, taking the town of Gao and a bridge. The French plan to take Timbuktu and the rest of northern Mali. The Washington Post reports that the rebel forces, who are receiving support and leadership from Al Qaeda, have either fled or blended into the population.

This blending in indicates that Al Qaeda is there to stay. The group is prepared to stay and fight the French and other African forces for control of Mali, with support coming from AQIM. France already has the issue of not defining when it wants to pull out of Mali, putting it at risk for a long-term occupation similar to Iraq and Afghanistan. France needs to focus in on its goal and commitment to Mali and other African forces helping out. If France still wants on the ground commitment but to not be totally engaged in the long-term, there is the option of smaller task forces helping an African (multiple African states)-led force. However, their commitment has the potential to grow weary and this operation to not work in the long run.


Will more foreign troops in the DRC help or exasperate the situation?

The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) has agreed to send to the DRC, a Neutral International Force of 4000 soldiers from neighboring countries, for the purpose of “eliminating both local and foreign rebel groups operating in the eastern DRC”. The International Force will fall under MONUSCO (U.N. mission in the DRC), but will have “independent operation”, and will be commanded by a Tanzanian officer.

After 13 years on the ground, the U.N. Security Council has apparently decided that the MONUSCO mandate will be upgraded so that the blue helmets can “enforce peace”.

The article is not clear on whether the democratically elected government in Kinshasa has requested any of this help, or have approved of the mandate given to the brigade, but it is immensely disturbing that such power will be given to an officer from another country. It is one thing to hunt down foreign rebel groups that are in the DRC illegally, but it is another story to have a brigade of soldiers from Tanzania come in and hunt Congolese citizens. This has the potential to start another conflict not to mention another refugee crisis.

One also has to question the rational in only sending 4000 troops to the third biggest country in Africa (905,563 square miles), when the United Nation’s 20,000 strong force has been unable to stem the flow of terror from neighboring countries in the thirteen years since the start of the mission.


Russia’s Melting Ice: Blessing in Disguise?

Last week, a top Russian security official stated that arctic security needs to be strengthened.  Russia, as well as its neighboring arctic states should protect themselves from the consequences of melting ice, Yevgeny Lukyanov announced at the annual Arctic Council meeting in Tromso, Norway.  The ice coverage in the area has shrunken to its second lowest point recorded, which creates new security problems for countries who have coastline along the Arctic Circle.  According to the Russian official,  these states need to secure themselves against an increase in maritime traffic.  Illegal immigration, smuggling, and drug trafficking were listed as the top concerns.   Russia recommends the strengthening of borders and closer surveillance of transportation routes for states to protect themselves.

The source of this news RIA Novosti, a government owned news organization, so it is unsurprising that the article failed to mention all that Russia has to gain from the ice melt.  Every day, Russia gets progressively better access to its potentially vast oil reserves.  In fact, there may be as much as 25% of the earth’s untapped hydrocarbons hiding right below Russia’s northern territory.  As it is, oil and gas is the country’s most lucrative export market- one can only imagine their desire to tap into these resources.  Many scientists have argued that Russia-as the world’s coldest nation- is likely the country with the most to gain from global warming.  As the permafrost continues to melt, more of their country will become habitable.  They will be able to plant (and harvest) trees on this newly defrosted land.  In addition to oil and gas, precious minerals are hiding below the surface.  And the Northern Sea Route, which allows passage just below the arctic and to Asia, requires less ice-breaking ships and is widening annually which has great potential to boost the value of their exports.

While it is interesting to consider the consequences of shifting borders due to environmental factors, it seems to me that Russia is more likely to be excited about their new resources than they are to be concerned over increased maritime traffic.



A solution for Sino-Japanese relations?

Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama started a four-day trip to China on Sunday to try and ease the current tensions rising in the East China Sea. Murayama is visiting China hoping to try and resolve the Diaoyu-Senkaku Island dispute. Murayama is respected across China for having formerly apologized for the Nanking Massacre while he was in office.

The current situation regarding both China and Japan is one that will have much significance in the future if conflict is to arise. The situation has become so delicate that Japan has threatened to fire warning shots at Chinese fighter jets. Chinese officials replied stating that it would be Japan’s “only shot”.

Murayama is meeting with multiple Chinese diplomats on his trip, and hopefully they can come to some arrangement. With the recent discovery of large natural gas deposits around the islands, both states are eager to prove their legitimate sovereignty over the islands. U.S. officials are eagerly awaiting the results of Murayama’s visit and the future of the East China Sea.


The CIA, Pakistan, & the New Drone Warfare Playbook

U.S. officials have declared that the Obama administration is “nearing completion of a detailed counter-terrorism manual” designed “to establish clear rules for targeted-killing operations.” However, the manual and its rules are not expected to apply to CIA drone strikes in Pakistan for anywhere between one to two years after its formal creation.

The playbook formalizes, among other things, the process by which individuals are added to a kill list, the procedure for approving a CIA or military drone strike outside a warzone, and the legal principles which govern when a U.S. citizen or citizens can be targeted.

Reactions to the playbook (and the CIA-Pakistan specific exemption) are varied, and reveal many of the larger concerns with how drone technology is being used by the administration.

  1. On the one hand, the playbook is hailed as formalizing and clarifying a previously murky topic: how strikes were authorized and carried out, by whom, and against which targets. For example, the playbook requires the approval of multiple agencies for authorizing strikes and adding new names to kill-lists, decreasing the likelihood that a lone individual could intentionally or unintentionally abuse the system.
  2. On the other hand, the ACLU’s National Security Project describes the playbook as “a step in exactly the wrong direction, a further bureaucratization of CIA’s paramilitary killing program.” While having rules and guidelines may be better than officials randomly and arbitrarily ordering drone attacks, such rules and guidelines also implicitly confirm the power and authority to conduct paramilitary drone operations without a formal declaration of war, or to kill American citizens without a formal trial, both which has long-lasting and ominous consequences.
  3. The CIA-Pakistan specific exemption was made because, according to officials, the CIA’s drone program is simply too effective to curtail. However, this begs the question: under what circumstances will the CIA’s drone program ever be worth curtailing? Likewise, specific types of strikes (especially the “signature strikes,” which target unknown individuals who match certain terrorist-like profiles) are considered too effective to discard, in spite of the legal and ethical questions surrounding them.
  4. The drone strikes in other countries (such as Yemen or Somalia) are not part of the CIA-exemption, but are criticized as being so secretive that there is no real oversight or accountability.

The appeal of drones, especially for the current administration, is obvious and compelling: relatively low cost, minimal risk to American lives, and low profile. However, the long-term consequences of the administration’s handling of drone warfare must be considered by the Obama administration, by other branches of the U.S. government, and by the public. The precedents we set will have long-reaching implications as other countries gain the technological capacity to operate their own drone fleets, potentially at our own expense.

Note: The article linked above is a condensed version of the printed article. Full content published on 1/20/13 in the Washington Post.

Mexican Ghost Towns

The persistent drug war being fought in Mexico is having a devastating effect on the rural population of some of Mexico’s poorest states and cities. Situated along the Cartels’ favored drug smuggling routes, these rural areas are home to some of the worst violence and destruction perpetrated by these gangs. These areas are marginalized by the government, and as a result, citizens have simply left due to lack of protection.

A larger security dilemma is on the horizon for Mexico as these abandonments have displaced over 140,000 people since 2007. These refugees are especially at risk as they are fleeing the violence without any sort of assistance or chance for employment in new areas. They’re simply trying to avoid being victims of the Cartel’s cruel tactics. What’s even more devastating for the security of the country is that these ghost towns are either being transformed into new bases of operations for Cartels or razed so as to permanently displace citizens who wish to return.

The military has restored some order in a few villages, but citizens cannot count on the support of the military alone. Many have taken up arms, defending themselves and their villages from the chaotic situation. Defending rural areas is imperative to the security of Mexico as they lie within strategic areas of cartel activity and their insecurity has creating a growing refugee population within the country. The problems with addressing the security of such secluded areas is that it takes away resources from fighting the war in areas of heightened cartel activity. However, the Mexican government needs to acknowledge that these ghost towns are a sobering reminder that the Cartel threat is dramatically altering the country on an unprecedented scale.


Israeli Official Hints Pentagon Has a Plan for Iran

Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, hinted at potential Pentagon plans to “surgically strike” Iranian nuclear assets if the necessity presented itself. In an interview with the World Economic Forum, the minister was questioned on the growing conflict between Israel and Iran, specifically what would be the provoking action to bring Israel to war. Mr. Barak answered the question by stating that “there were more than just the two options — of full-scale war or allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons capability — in the event that sanctions and diplomacy failed.” He went on to say that the Pentagon has extensive plans, which he referred to as “fine, extremely fine scalpels.” These plans, if enacted would greatly delay the acquisition of a nuclear bomb. This revelation also brings to light a potential cooperation between Israeli and US intelligence agencies. This would signify a warming in relations between Israel and America, which have found themselves at odds as of late.

While everyone assumes that the U.S. has contingency plans for growing threats, such as Iran acquiring a nuclear device, it is rare that these plans are discussed openly, or even hinted at before they are brought into effect. What we have seen is the increase in scale of the covert operations between Israel and the U.S. against Iran. What started as cyber-warfare has moved into the assassination of key scientists and car bombings. How much farther can Iran push the envelope before it warrants a violent response? One must remember that Israel has acted unilaterally in Operation Opera (1981), in which the main nuclear research facility outside of Baghdad was bombed and leveled.


Where is the Border?

The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and the president of Sudan, Omer Al-Bashir, met once again to discuss the border disputes between their nations. These meetings occurred before the meeting of the African Union Peace and the Security Council (AUPSC) January 25, 2012 .

There were two main issues on the table. The first was the demilitarized zone around Mile 14. The South Sudanese government is being accused of only proposing to move their troops out of 120 kilometers of the 200 kilometer disputed zone. Thus, 80 kilometers of what the Sudanese government feels is a disputed zone will still be in control of the South Sudanese military.  The second issue revolves around the attempt of the two nations to come to a decision about the status of Abyei.  This region is known for its exportation of oil. The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, has voiced his opinion that discussions have lasted long enough with no results. He explained “”We have exhausted the issue of Abyei for seven years. This issue does not require further negotiation but rather swift adoption and implementation of the AUHIP (African Union-High Level Implementation Panel) proposal.”

The African Union Peace is being urged by Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chairman of the African Union Commission, to call for the implementation of a bilateral deal as soon as possible. She feels as though this issue is of “great concern” to Africa. She stated “It is my hope that this Council will call on the two states to urgently and unconditionally implement all aspects of the agreements which were mutually acceptable compromises on both sides.”

For obvious reasons this disputed area is a security risk for Africa. From the point of view of both nations this security can be defined as border or economic security. From the whole of Africa’s point of view this could be a possible starting point for continued and increased violence in the area. In either case a balanced agreement should be decided on as soon as possible.


(as of this post the results of the meeting are unknown)


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