Archive for October, 2014

Jerusalem crash heightens tensions

Just as the 50-day Gaza conflict has drawn to a close, a Palestinian by the name of Abdel-Rahman Shaloudi drove his car into a crowd, injuring eight people and killing a three-month-old baby girl. Israeli Netanyahu blamed this incident on Palestinian Abbas, accusing him of inciting violent attacks on Jerusalem. A U.S. spokeswoman urged both sides to stay calm to prevent escalating the situation even more than it already is. No doubt, the United States does not want to see another full-scale armed conflict just when a ceasefire (however tenuous) had just been achieved.

While both Israel and Palestine also have strong interests not to escalate tensions, unprecedented attacks by individuals and the clashes that invariably follow such as the shooting of a Palestinian-American teenager make it difficult to maintain stability. This problem is furthered by the responses of ordinary citizens, which usually entail outrage and a cry for revenge.


Baltic States Stock Up on AT

US Army (mobile) TOW Anti Tank Missile

For the last six years, it appears the Baltic states have been studying the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. Now for many in the face of potential future aggression, the conclusions of this study seem clear: you do not need tanks to fight tanks. When Russian troops invaded the small country of Georgia with the purpose of annexing the territory of South Ossetia, they did so with armored help. While the Georgian military was ineffective in stopping the advance of Russian troops and tanks, it was a learning lesson for others.

Based on the events of the conflict, it would be logical that the disparity between the Russians and any Baltic state pose a problem for conventional warfare. A reliance on anti-tank missiles means a smaller actor can mitigate any advantage in armor to some extent. Obviously mobility is an issue. A combatant would need to hold an effective line to deny the mobility advantage to enemy armor, for once the Russians blast a hole they can exploit the maneuverability of their mechanized forces. But the logic holds that AT missiles are cheap, mobile if paired with light vehicles, and effective against theoretically any thickness of armor, Chobham or reactive systems aside. Tom Clancy for example postulated in the fictional Red Storm Rising that TOW-equipped jeeps would provide flexibility in semi-static defenses while at the same time the firepower to blunt Russian operational maneuver groups and prevent a breakthrough (this has yet to be tested clearly).

Finally, because AT systems are cheap, mechanically more simple than a tank or IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle)/APC (Armored Personnel Carrier), and easier to instruct soldiers to employ and position, the increased focus of smaller states on these weapons is a no-brainer when compared to the challenges of fielding tanks in adequate numbers.

It is an intelligent move for these states to be procuring these weapons, and while expensive, represent an imaginably fractional cost of what would need to exist in its place to defend the region. My thinking is that they cannot afford to keep up with Russian defense spending and by going for force-multipliers seem to be playing the game pragmatically.

Poland would do well in taking a leaf from their book.


Pentagon and Congress work to simplify defense spending

The Pentagon and Congress are working together to streamline the process of acquiring military equipment and services, an affair that is currently mired in an array of overlapping laws. Pentagon officials are aiming to submit legislation to reform military acquisitions as part of the 2016 budget process. In the meantime, the House and Senate armed services committees are also looking for ways to increase efficiency in such acquisitions. In light of concerns of declining military spending, defense industry officials likely to look favorably upon these reform efforts.

Despite concerns that simplifying the laws governing military acquisitions will open the door to botched acquisitions, I believe that this initiative is in our best interest. Streamlining the acquisition process will help to limit our engagements abroad and prevent defense costs from running too high.



Tunisia with a Peaceful Political Transition Out of Left Field

We all remember Tunisia as the country that jumped first into the Arab Spring. The actions of protesters inspired citizens across the Middle East into action. That was three years ago, and this week Tunisia held free elections that, for the first time, ended with a cordial phone call. The moderate, secular party, Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) won more than 80 seats in the 217-seat legislature. The political party that had been dominating Tunisian politics since the Revolution, the Islamist Ennahda party, won 67. Unlike elections in other nations across the Middle East, this one ended peacefully. Ennahda officials congratulated the winners and both parties are moving to form a unified government.

Ennahda is a moderate Islamist party, to be clear. This is something unique to Tunisia. With its closer proximity to Western Europe and close trade relations, Tunisia is an anomaly within the Greater Middle East. Its people are generally progressive, and its economy benefits from a bustling tourism industry. When it comes to the rest of the Middle East, moderate Islamist parties are rarely found in positions of such power. Neither are secular parties. This is good for the progress of democracy to the rest of the world. If Tunisia can lead by example during the Arab Spring, they can lead by example by being a working democracy.

Tunisian teenagers celebrate after having voted, showing off their ink-stained fingers.



– Sacha Brenac

US Embassy Harassment

For the past few years, increasingly in the past few months, US Embassy members are being harassed by the Russian population.  From personal property damage to security officers stalking Embassy members, Russians are being a nuisance and making work uneasy for workers.  The even go to the extent of interfering with diplomatic work at the embassy.  Ethnic Russians also are not safe from this harassment.  Russian workers the go to the embassy have been threatened by questionable individuals if they continue going there.

These actions that the Russian people are taking can potentially be concerning to the safety of US citizens and some Russians.  If things were to escalate at all there would be security problems, whether it be assault or espionage.  Americans or Russians could be attacked on the streets when they are not in the wall of the embassy and since Russians do work in the embassy, there could be a problem of data leaking out of the embassy or other cyber problems.  I am not too concerned yet since this has been going on for a few years now, but we should keep a close eye on the matter to protect our citizens and workers of the embassy in Russia.


-Zachary T

Link to Article: ABC News

‘Achilles Heel’

Some analysts, like the two mentioned in the article, believe that the likelihood of an attack on Western energy transportation is unlikely at this time. Al-Qaeda has made such threats, but these analysts believe that this is a tactic to make headlines, as well to put Western nations on alert, and that the organization lacks the ability to carry out a strike like this right now. Although al-Qaeda affiliated groups do occupy some of the key points on the Western oil routes they are likely more concerned with territorial loss in the region at this time then on attacking oil shipments. Regardless of their actual capabilities at this time, they did threaten attacks on the checkpoints of shipments out of the Middle East. This threat was posted in the al-Qaeda English-language magazine, Resurgence, which is posted in an online forum. A South Asian media branch of al-Qaeda also laid out a plan that suggests the best places to interrupt the American oil flow system with attacks. These checkpoints include the Straits of Gibraltar, the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal,or the Bab El Mendeb. However, there has been increased security at some of these checkpoints, decreasing the likelihood of success.

What would be the point of attacking these checkpoints? In an article titled, “On Targeting the Achilles Heel of Western Economies,” Hamza Khalid writes that a, multi-pronged strategy that focuses not only on attacking American military presence in the Muslim world, but also targeting the super-extended energy supply line that fuels their economies and helps to sustain their military strength,” is the best way to weaken the US in the region. My question, though, is how much would this affect the US? We have other means of obtaining oil, so I don’t really see how this would be really bad for our economy. What then does it mean for other Western nations? They too could obtain oil from other places, although I’m not sure how that would affect them economically. It seems to me the most damage would be done to Middle Eastern economies. If we can’t safely get oil out of the region, why would we continue to try when we have other means? I do see that it would probably affect our allies in the region, which we definitely wouldn’t like, but other than upsetting our allies I’m not sure such a plan would be very successful.


ASC Article

Ebola vaccine planned by 2015

In an effort to stop the increasing wave of the worst Ebola outbreak to date, scientist hope to have millions of experimental vaccines available by next year. A few countries, including Canada, The United States and Russia, are working to develop vaccines with Canada being the one in hopes that 12 millions vaccines will be available by the end of the first quarter of 2015. Health care officials in the infected countries will be the first ones to try to the experimental drugs, but there was still be plenty left for the resident citizens. All in all, so far there have been 10,141 cases of Ebola with 4,922 reported deaths. Out of those, about 450 of them are health care workers within which 244 have died. The figure of those infected with Ebola has changed significantly from when I gave my presentation a little over two weeks ago.

The thought of there being a vaccine or treatment for Ebola is definitely calming. The though of this virus not being such a global threat is gives me a sense of a silver lining that I hope is true. I feel that if the three countries worked together to create a vaccine/treatment then this would be all the better. It seems logical to think that a solution would come about faster and that the outlook on the number of available vaccines would increase. While the countries may have their differences, the stance on Ebola seems pretty universal in that the elimination of the virus is mutually desired. The time where there is finally a cure/treatment for this virus does not seem like it is that far off.

– Lauren


United Nations meeting to address issues within Syria

blog 8 pic

At the beginning of October there was a United Nations General Assembly summit held to determine current conflicts within the world. When Syria was discussed attention was focused on the displaced refugees outside of the country and within Syria. Seeing no end in sight it was advised by the U.N. humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, that access remains open to the 11 million people who need assistance in Syria (Brooks). With the ever changing dynamics within and around Syria new measures must be taken to adjust. The delivery of aid is as challenging as ever with the shifting conflict (Brooks).  It was also highlighted that even if the United Nations gets the necessary access to provide help within Syria there is still the problem of constant attacks on the ground.

There is clearly a problem within the country of Syria. There are territories being seized by ISIS, the Assad regime is fighting the rebels, and there are displaced persons as a result of all the turmoil. The Obama administration arming moderate rebels only solves one aspect of the many issues occurring in Syria. Even if that plan turns out to be successful, which is debatable, there are still other issues that need attention. Many people who are not even involved in the fighting have been affected. If left helpless the country of Syria could fall into further turmoil and even more people will have to leave their homes and risk their lives. The Obama administration although in a tough position of trying to select one problem over another (ISIS versus the Assad regime) should send aid along with the international community to let Syrians know they are not alone. Once ISIS is taken care of attention must shift to the removal of Assad.


Violence continues in DRC

The United Nations has vowed to improve security at MONUSCO bases in the North Kivu region of Democratic Republic in the Congo following a series of low-level attacks last week. These attacks have ranged from a mob throwing rocks at MONUSCO’s base at a Congolese airport to a group of armed civilians ambushing a joint FARDC-MONUSCO patrol, the latter of which resulted in two civilian deaths. These particular attacks appear to be spontaneous reactions from dissatisfied aspects of the Congolese population.

Concurrently, the Ugandan terrorist group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) launched two attacks around the North Kivu city of Beni this past week. These attacks, which MONUSCO estimates killed at least two dozen people, led MONUSCO mission chief Martin Kobler to once again urge “decisive joint military action… to relieve the population from the terror imposed by ADF.” These attacks appear to be the latest part of a new ADF offensive in the region.

These attacks don’t have any major security implications for American interests. They don’t significantly upset the internal balance of power in the DRC. No territory was taken or reclaimed. There were no major public figures killed. In fact, the war that existed last week looks no different from the one that exists today. These are simply the latest incidents in a seemingly endless cycle of violence in North Kivu.


US Citizen, Jeffrey Fowle, Released Early from North Korea

Jeffrey Fowle reunited with his family after being released from North Korea last Wednesday

After six months being held captive by North Korea, Jeffrey Fowle is home safe in the US. After being charged with “anti-state” activity for leaving a bible in a nightclub Fowle was sentenced to six years in a work camp. Although the US does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, Sweden who act as “the US protecting power in North Korea” was instrumental in campaigning for Fowle, along with the other US detainees, to be released. North Korea gave no reason for the release of Fowle, but deny that they are using the US citizens as “diplomatic bargaining chips.”

It is very unusual that the North Korean government released an American citizen this early with no stated reason.With relations between the US and North Korea being at an all time low, this may be a indirect way of North  Korea to say they are ready to start cooperating on the international stage, even with their sworn enemies, the United States. It will be interesting to see how North Korea responds to the upcoming UN General Assembly on human rights, if North Korea gets sent to the ICC, and if this will impact these small movements towards a less isolationist regime. We could be taking one step forward and three steps back.



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