Archive for February, 2013

Dennis Rodman worms his way into North Korea

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Former NBA star Dennis Rodman brought his basketball skills and flamboyant style — tattoos, nose studs and all — on Tuesday to a country with possibly the world’s strictest dress code: North Korea.

Arriving in Pyongyang, the American athlete and showman known as “The Worm” became an unlikely ambassador for sports diplomacy at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Or maybe not so unlikely: Young leader Kim Jong Un is said to have been a fan of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when Rodman won three championships with the club.

Rodman is joining three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team and a VICE correspondent for a news show on North Korea that will air on HBO later this year, VICE producers told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday before they landed.

When first read this article Dennis Rodman and diplomacy stated in same sentences seem draw little to no correlation with each other about as close as hot and cold are to each other. He was the “bad boy” of the NBA with lunatic antics he would carry. With that being said, he was remarkable player won 3 NBA titles and was part supporting cast of stars that propelled MJ to further Stardom. How can sports work with diplomacy? At the 1998 FIFA World Cup, held in France, Iran recorded their first World Cup victory in the second game, beating the United States 2–1, with Estili and Mahdavikia scoring goals for Iran. The match was preheated with much excitement because of each country’s political stance after the Iranian revolution; however, in an act of defiance against all forms of hatred or politics in sports, both sides presented one another with gifts and flowers and stood together for a photographs. Could a recognizable figure helping children play basketball strengthen our relations with DPRK? possibly, but in land where you cannot even grow facial hair let alone facial piercing/tattoos. It’s very interesting as to of all US NBA stars they chose the Worm for sport diplomacy.

The UNR and Mai Mai Yakutumba rebel groups in the DRC

This article details the recent arrest in The Republic of South Africa, of 19 members of the UNR (Union Nationalists for Renewal). The members, led by President Kabila’s half brother Etienne Kabila, were seeking weapons and training in South Africa in order to overthrow of the elected government in Kinshasa.

According to reports, the UNR as well as the Mai Mai Yakutumba’s (a politico-military movement tied to the UNR) main complaint is what they see as the “ingratitude of the national army”; “it feels that it should have been ‘rewarded’ [with proceeds from the sale of minerals] for having fought on the government side in the 1990’s. The UNR also claims that Etienne Kabila was the rightful successor to the presidency of the DRC after Laurent Kabila was assassinated.

What differentiates these two groups is that they have never been part of any of the negotiations or been signatories to any agreement with the elected government.

This article really demonstrates one of the major core problems facing the DRC, and that is how the greed for control of the mineral rich regions is fueling the various rebel groups in the DRC.

The DRC was never a monarchy, and the fact that the current elected president first ascended to the presidency after his father had ousted Marshal Mobutu in a military coup, does create a legitimacy issue for Joseph Kabila. Every new democracy has its problems, this is a sticking point, but a more important problem is the length to which the rebel groups will go to control the mineral rich areas of the country. Also as interesting is the fact that these rebel groups are financed by neighbors of the DRC, who are gaining financially from smuggling these resources out of the DRC and into the world markets. It is difficult to imagine that Rwanda and Uganda, with such potential financial losses on the line, would be willing to be part of the solution in resolving the current crisis in the DRC. It is equally difficult to imagine that South Africa, with its own financial interest invested in the government of the DRC, could be impartial to solving the current crisis.

The article also indirectly points to one of the major flaws in applying the western system of democracy to third world and undeveloped countries; the citizenry does not understand the concept of a central government system.


Sequestration, a positive perspective?

Well, as promised I managed to find a few promising articles viewing sequestration in a far more positive light, (since it’s becoming more and more likely as we approach the deadline of March 1st, I figured I would leave us all with good happy feelings before we wait for it) and I know this will be long, but it’s my last chance to get Sequestration articles in before the actual make-or-break date. But first, the comic of the week,















I found two good articles that offer different positives on the Sequestration, the first is from the CATO institute, by Christopher Preble.

The  argument shared by both pieces is that the sequestration isn’t nearly as devastating as it is being made out to be, especially when placed in the context of broader government spending. The article claims it will NOT result in the loss of one million jobs, and that it will actually lead to greater diversity in the economies of some areas that are heavily dependent on defense spending but have a skilled labor force (for example, Northern Virginia). As a reassurance, the article states, the sequestration would only apply to Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, and congress would be free to make adjustments to later budgets, so the sequestration would be a little sting that could be used as a path to smarter defense budgets. However, I don’t necessarily agree very strongly with the tangent at the end of the article, that a leaner US military will ipso facto lead to other countries “encourage other countries to take responsibility for their own security, and share in the costs and risks of policing the global commons.” That’s a bit of a hasty generalization to make, especially in a small paragraph at the end of an article like that.

The next article is from the Washington Post opinions by Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake,

This fairly short article is SIGNIFICANTLY more negative on the prospects of avoiding sequestration and certainly makes no claim that the cuts won’t be THAT bad. In fact, the article seems to relish the idea that defense cuts will be SO terrible, that it will actually FORCE a change in Washington and force the American people to pay more attention to how the government spends it’s money. Particularly, it will force people to no longer believe as the article says, the political rhetoric that you can have a large budget AND low taxes, which it calls the “have cake/eat it too mentality”. I would have liked to have seen more contextualization here between defense spending and broader government entitlement spending, which some argue is the REAL low taxes vs. high benefits conundrum.
So, which positives do you think are most convincing and most likely? Do you think these positives even make sense? And, if sequestration is, by some miracle, avoided, do you think we should enact defense cuts anyway?


World Powers Offer Iran Sanction Relief on Eve of Talks

World Powers (The Permanent Security Council members and Germany) this week offered some sanction relief for Iran, in a show of good faith before the approaching nuclear talks in Kazakhstan. The idea behind the new tactic was to save the talks from dying before they get off the ground. While sources failed to specify what the offer entails, it is coupled with a set of demands ranging from establishing the time and date of the next talk to the cessation of HEU production, especially at the underground Fordo enrichment plant. While few are optimistic about the talks reaching an agreement or conclusion, the goal is to gain “forward momentum” in the process and dissuade Iran from a nuclear weapon test such as the one recently conducted by North Korea.

This new tactic is a departure from the previous M.O. of the World Powers when dealing with Iran. It could reflect a growing doubt in the current policy’s effectiveness, or it could be attempting to offer Iran a carrot, rather than the stick it has been receiving as of late.  Either way, it should increase the odds of the talk being at all productive, rather than a stage for Iranian posturing as they have been lately. It remains to be seen if the carrot method will work, but if it does, it could usher in a new method of dealing with the rouge state; or it could quite literally blow up in our faces. Israel has promised to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, even if it means a forceful interdiction.



Cyber Security and China

There have been a number of cyber attacks lately on the US government and military that are allegedly believed to have originated from a secret Chinese military unit. The Chinese government has denied these allegations calling them, “irresponsible and unprofessional.” The threat of cyber attacks has many serious repercussions. In today’s world almost all businesses use the Internet for some means of business. One repercussion is that weapons blueprints could be obtained by Chinese hackers, in order for China to build identical military technology to that of the US. Not only could Chinese military hackers target the US military but also the US economy. If power grids were to be shut down by hackers, a whole city could cease to function. Public transportation could be shut down; access to electricity, heat, power and the Internet would all be impossible.
According to the Pentagon and Homeland Security, cyber attacks are hard to source and locate. Even if US officials have an idea as to where the attack originated it cannot be guaranteed with infallible validation. According to Chad Sweet, a former CIA and Homeland Security official, “China allegedly targets civilian infrastructure, while the U.S. targets military installations.”
Cyber-security is becoming increasingly important in today’s Internet age. The United States must be prepared to take measures to meet the increasing security threat from not only china but also non-state actors, or it will certainly face the consequences.


US Troops Now In Niger to Combat Growing AQIM Presence

The US government has confirmed that 100 troops are now stationed in Niger operating  a drone base. These troops are a combination of drone operators and security for the operators and the base. There was no talk of using this force for on-the-ground combat missions. Niger and the US agreed to “intelligence sharing” with surveillance drones last month. The Obama administration has been hesitant to deploy any boots on the ground for operations in Northern Africa.

The introduction of drones into Northern Africa will enter a new level of the conflict; with intelligence gathering it can be easier to  identify targets for the future and who exactly is fighting. On the other hand, human intelligence on the ground rather than in the air can distinguish who is with what group better. This also marks a shift in how the US goes about conducting itself in conflicts; drones are being sent in before boots on the ground. Interesting also to note will be how effective this strategy is compared with similar ones in Yemen and Pakistan.


Cooperation Proving Difficult for Cyber-Security Legislation

Perhaps one of the biggest cyber-security threats facing the United States today is difficulties associated with the cooperation between the private companies and the federal government. It is extremely important to secure potentially targeted networks that would be hackers could use to wreak havoc on the American infrastructure. Obama and Congress have made steps forward to secure that area and the system as a whole, but as the article delicately states the, “devil is in the details.”

Private companies don’t want to be monitored, nor do they want to held liable by the federal government if a would-be attack potentially stemmed from one of their security breaches. The government wants stricter regulations and expansion of its control while the private sector is wary to enter into such an agreement. Vague proposals have been brought up, none of which particularly solve the issue at hand. These two groups need to come to some kind of an agreement in which the government can step in and assist if needed or required while not infringing upon the privacy rights of the civilian sector. Cyber security and the issues associated with it are not going to go away and are only going to become increasingly more important.


Kurdish Women’s Battalion Created

The first women’s battalion for the opposition of the Syrian conflict has been established by Kurds. So far, the Kurds have had a lesser role in the Civil War, as they seem to be planning to secede instead of fighting for control of Syria. However, there have been some Kurdish factions involved in fighting, and they just recently created a ceasefire with Islamist groups that they were clashing with. The introduction of the all women battalion will probably further alienate them from the more hard line Islamist opposition groups. It appears that the group may have been created in response to the formation of the National Defense Forces, an all women paramilitary group created by the Assad regime. Women have been helpful in smuggling weapons during the conflict because they are less likely to be searched. The introduction of women into the fighting forces could change the view of women and possibly make them appear to be more legitimate targets. At the same time, women in Syria are not safe, as violent attacks and rapes have increased, so perhaps arming them could increase their security. Growing Kurdish involvement in the conflict could create further regional issues. For instance, many are receiving military training in Iraqi Kurdistan,so if Kurdish involvement increases and they become a more legitimate target for the regime, it could spill the conflict into Northern Iraq.


Iranian Drones

As of the this writing, Iran is concluding the “Great Prophet 8,” a series of military exercises for the Revolutionary Guard.

  1. Iranian sources claim that the Guard spotted a foreign drone entering Iranian airspace and electronically took control of it, forcing the drone to land near Sirjan.
  2. Iranian media later claimed that no such event had occurred, and that the drone was an Iranian unit posing as an opposing force unmanned aerial vehicle.
  3. General Hamid Sarkheili also claimed that the Revolutionary Guard was experimenting with “suicide drones.”

Points #1 is worth noting because, while Iran has previously claimed to capture foreign drones, the captured units have supposedly been shot down or victims of technical issues. In spite of Iran’s notoriously unreliable relationship with the truth, claiming the capacity to electronically secure enemy drones is a step up for them. Additionally, even if Iran is lying, there will come a day when a third party actually does manage to electronically hijack a drone. Alternatively, there exists the possibility that an actor will claim that their drone was electronically hijacked prior to performing an act they cannot publicly acknowledge.

Point #2 is worth noting because, despite the Iranian tradition of paying only casual attention to reality in public, this is not to say that the Iranian government actually believes its own propaganda. Retracting their claims could be an effort to save face (“we’re not wrong, we were misquoted!”) or an effort to muddy the truth. If a foreign drone was captured outside Sirjan (and it is entirely possibly that foreign drones would keep an eye on military exercises performed by the Republican Guard), Iranian institutions might prefer to deny its existence rather than admit to having enemy material.

Point #3 is worth noting because it displays how non-US actors will use drones in a manner which the United States chooses to ignore. Additionally, while suicide aircraft have been used before (kamikaze units in WWII’s Pacific theater), the drone precedent of being able to conduct lethal strikes in foreign countries without declaring war leaves an awkward grey area which we may later come to regret.

Original Story.


— Dave III

Border Towns and Security: What Works in One Town Could Have Undesired Consequences in Another

Securing the border has become more of a cause to rally around than an actual objective. In many of America’s border towns, from San Diego to El Paso, border “security” means different things to different citizens. The article outlines instances in which certain sectors of the border have implemented different strategies of combating illegal crossings, human and drug trafficking, and a variety of other security risks. As a result of ramped up security in many areas, apprehensions of illegal crossers have decreased dramatically. This is attributed (most specifically in San Diego’s case) to increased technology, including unmanned predator drones and ground sensors, and more guards on the ground. However, the success of the San Diego model does not necessarily make it an applicable approach to all other sectors of the border.

As a result of increased security on one border, illegal crossings (both in, and out of Mexico), have found their way in the pockets of less protected areas, greatly affecting the ranchers and land owners who live there. Many of them have decided to buy up land and erect high fences, which only specifically halts the illegal crossers, and not the traffickers which have taken to underground tunnels and increasingly aquatic routes. In many towns that resemble bilingual and bicultural populations,  fences like these are seen as offensive. They believe that an easier path to immigration for those seeking work, would put an end to the constant illegal crossings and allow forces on the border to focus their attention and resources on drug and human trafficking, both going in and out.

It is in this last approach that I believe we can see the greatest sense of “security” to be felt along the border as illegal migrant crossings would decrease and attention can be paid to apprehending criminal smugglers. Any section of the border that increases its security, automatically decreases the security of another less secured sector through a redirection of the flow of crossing. The border is far too long, and Mexico too big of a haven for drug cartels, to be completely sealed off 100 percent of the time. Realistically, the best border security option would be to mitigate smuggling and other activity along the border, and reform immigration to the point where illegal crossings are less attractive than a legal path to citizenship. The various perspectives from different border towns allow the situation to be understood as not one that can be solved through merely enforcement, but rather a variety of technological, diplomatic, and political action.


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