Archive for April, 2017

American General Alleges Russian Government is Arming the Taliban


At a joint press conference held by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and U.S. General John Nicholson on Monday in Kabul, Afghanistan, Gen. Nicholson would “not refute” claims that Russia has Afghanistan has been providing support to the Taliban, including supplying the Taliban with weapons. Earlier today, another representative for the United States military told reporters in Kabul that Russia was supplying the Taliban with weapons, as well as specifying the kinds of weapons used and naming southern provinces where the weapons are being used. General Mattis stated that the U.S. would “engage with Russia diplomatically. We’ll do so where we can, but we’re going to have to confront Russia where what they’re doing is contrary to international law or denying the sovereignty of other countries. For example, any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law.” Referencing last week’s devastating attack on unarmed soldiers at an Afghan military base, which the Taliban had claimed responsibility for, General Nicholson stated that “anyone who arms belligerents who perpetuate attacks like the one we saw” [isn’t someone focused on] “the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.”

Although the Trump administration has seemed to have mixed feelings about Russia and its international aggression thus far, perhaps the President will come to realize the threat Russia poses not only to the United States and our security, but to the safety of people across the globe.


Filipino officials visit disputed isle, to build facilities

Officials of the Philippines military visited a disputed island in the South China sea recently. Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana, along with the nation’s military chief of staff, and forty journalists visited the island of Thitu, which lies nearby to the Chinese-held Subi Reef. China warned the officials that they were encroaching on Chinese territory and that they should tread carefully. The visit by the minister of defense comes after reports of Filipino fishermen being harassed by Chinese coast guard vessels. The island is currently under the control of the Philippines. An additional goal of the visit was to inspect and investigate the island’s suitability for further construction of and improvements to military facilities on the island, including the lengthening of the island’s runway to accommodate larger aircraft. In addition to building on the island, the Philippines expects to build and fortify eight nearby smaller atolls.

This situation has the potential to put the United States in a precarious position. The construction activities that will soon begin on the island of Thitu will no doubt bring a protest by China and have to potential to further escalate the conflict that is ongoing in the South China sea. Additionally, other countries, like Vietnam, may look at the Philippines recent decision regarding Thitu and decide to fortify islands under their control. If such an event occurs and more states declare exclusion zones around these fortified islands, as China has done with restricted airspace and waters around its reclaimed islands, then freedom of navigation and overflight will be affected. Additionally, U.S. foreign policy may also be impacted by the move towards instability in the region, potentially affecting our trade with important partners like China, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

The Trump administration should, in my opinion, continue with the status quo. In keeping with previous administrations, the Trump administration should not take any position on competing claims between nations in the region. Any support voiced for a contested claim may damage our trade relationships; however, the administration should, if need be, take a position on how these territorial claims are argued because they may impact U.S. interests like freedom of navigation.

This article is good, however, I found it lacking in some historical background about the dispute.




Taliban Attack Trumps Trump’s Bomb

Taliban militants breached a northern Afghan army base, killing over 170 local soldiers eight days after the U.S. dropped its largest conventional bomb in eastern Afghanistan targeting ISIS fighters in the region. This attack, the largest of its kind since 2001, highlights how disconnected the priorities of the U.S. and the priorities of Afghanistan are. The 1,500 troops in Afghanistan who are directly engaged in counter terrorism mainly target al Qaeda and ISIS fighters, which are estimated to number in the hundreds whereas the Taliban numbers in the thousands to tens of thousands, and have gained territory in the last few years. Many have critiqued the U.S. attack as not targeting the real threat of the Taliban. I would tie this back to our discussions in class of how the fighting the Taliban is not seen as a major priority for the U.S. because the Taliban is not perceived as posing as great of a threat to the United States as al Qaeda or ISIS. In the near future it will be important for the U.S. to come up with a coherent list of priorities and strategies to address them if any of these groups are to be defeated.


Iran Complying with JCPOA

Announcement after negotiations in Lausanne - Iran Talks

After much ambiguity, it appears that the Trump administration is committed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). President Trump will, however, direct an interagency review of the agreement to investigate whether the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran, as specified by JCPOA, is in the US national interest. Secretary of State Tillerson announced last week that Iran is complying with the agreement but persists as a state sponsor of terror. Addressing the latter appears to be the administration’s current goal regarding Iran.


Nigeria’s Air Force Celebrates 53 Years

Nigeria’s air force was showing off a new attack helicopter during their 53rd anniversary this past weekend. The helicopter is going to be a new addition in the combat against Boko Haram. The helicopter has the capabilities to deliver appropriate firepower at the right time and at the right place. In addition to this new helicopter, the Nigerian military is also hoping the Trump administration will advance in their plan to sell high-tech aircraft to Nigeria. If Trump does sell aircraft to Nigeria, it is in our best interest to moderate when and how these aircraft are used. The Nigerian military has not always been precise with firepower, the most recent example is when they accidentally bombed a refugee camp and killed  100+ people. It is in our best interest to moderate the use of the aircraft and make sure the government is using it for the fight against Boko Haram.


Australia to Work with China on Cybersecurity

ZDNet has reported how Australia’s federal government has announced that it has agreed to work with China to enhance the cybersecurity cooperation. The discussion was between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Foreign Prime Minister Julie Bishop, and Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Political and Legal Affairs Meng Jianzhu. The discussion that was held in Sydney, Australia, and China have agreed to that neither country would conduct or support “cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, or confidential business information with the intent of obtaining competitive edge”. Both countries also agreed to follow the accordance with the reports of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on cyber. The two have also agreed to establish a “mechanism” to discuss cybersecurity and cybercrime issues in hope to prevent cyber incidents that could cause problems between China and Australia. The meeting included an establishment of a “memorandum of understanding of intellectual property”. This new agreement resembles the one that the U.S  had with China on cybersecurity and it was not held. China has continued to cause cyber attacks even with the agreement. Australia should still have precaution with the agreement because the agreement may just be a way to weaken Australia’s defense.


U.S. Sanctions Syrian Government Workers

On Monday, the United States Government announced it was imposing sanctions on 271 employees of the Syrian Government’s Scientific Studies and Research Center in the wake of the Sarin attack on civilians. This is the Syrian government agency that produces chemical weapons, and the sanctions blacklist the individuals from travel and financial transactions. The sanctions are meant as both a punishment to those involved in the chemical attack, and as a deterrent to any future attacks.

The U.S. Government is taking a stick approach to deter the Syrian government from carrying out future chemical attacks. While this will likely affect those sanctioned, it is unlikely to deter Assad. It does show that the United States is taking a stand against the Syrian government’s actions, however, it criticized as an action that should have come before the military action that was taken.




North Korea’s Neighbors Brace for Possible Demonstration

North Korea has a long history of demonstrating their military capabilities on dates they deem to be significant such as major anniversaries. With the anniversary of their military coming up on the 25th of April, the surrounding nations are bracing for the possibility of a nuclear test or launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. If this were to happen, it could potentially change the strategy President Trump has chosen to take in terms of North Korea, which seems to be using increased pressure alongside China, instead of direct military options. China’s President Xi Jinping told Trump that he opposes North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and hopes “all parties will exercise restraint and avoid aggravating the situation.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also urged Trump to refrain from provoking North Korea because their nuclear and missile program is a very serious threat to their country. According to recent U.S. commercial satellite images, North Korea has increased their activity surrounding their nuclear missile testing site. South Korea’s Defense Ministry has also come out and stated that their neighbors to the north appear to be ready for “strategic provocations”. With all of this going on, Trump has launched an armada of ships to the region, even though the administration does not intend to respond militarily. However, North Korea has recently accused the Trump administration of driving the region into an “extremely dangerous phase”. North Korea also stated that they will be prepared to stand up to the U.S. and any threat that is posed to them, as well as respond to a total war with an all-out nuclear war. This creates problems for the Trump administration because if North Korea really does have the capabilities for an all-out-war, it could be inevitable no matter what happens in the coming days. Trump also needs to take into account the wishes of our allies, however so even if he were to take a more military-oriented stance on the situation, it does not seem that it would be in our best interests.





An Unlikely Pair: Scientists Infect Mosquitos with Wolbachia Bacteria in Attempt to Fight Zika

Scientists have made the female Aedes aegypti mosquito Public Enemy No. 1. The Aedes aegypti, which transmits Dengue fever, Chikungunya, and the malicious Zika fever which causes flu-like symptoms and devastating birth defects like microcephaly in pregnant women, is being targeted with experimental mosquitos.

Male Aedes aegyptis do not bite. Scientists have harnessed their nature and mating preferences in an attempt to inhibit the reproduction of the Aedes aegypti species. The Wolbachia bacteria transmitted from the male mosquitos to the females during mating will cause the eggs produced by female Aedes aegypti mosquitos not to hatch, thus limiting the size of future generations.

The success of this experiment, which is in effect on Stock Island in the Florida Keyes, using 20,000 specimen, will hopefully mean a reduction in the spread of the Zika virus. A favorable result could mean a new tool in the arsenal of the fight against this disease.

A similar experiment in Australia back in 2011 showed great success, replacing a diseased population of mosquitos with a new, disease free generation. Future implementations and success could mean that targeted infections could turn formerly harmful mosquitos into vessels able to combat the airborne spread of disease and viruses like Zika.


Guyana oil prospects stir friction with Venezuela

Guyana’s oil resources have gained international attention as the discovery of oil in a disputed region has caused tensions with Venezuela, which also lays claim to the same region, to skyrocket in recent weeks.  The discovery of oil in the disputed Stabroek exploration area by ExxonMobil, with the potential of producing 1.5-2 billion barrels of oil, has also drawn the company into conflict with Venezuela. The Stabroek area is located 120 miles offshore in deep water.  Venezuela has laid claim to these waters, as well as two-thirds of present-day Guyana, as part of the Essequibo region. Venezuela has asked that ExxonMobil, who started drilling in the disputed waters in 2015, to stop drilling until the dispute, dating back decades, can be resolved by the United Nations.

U.S. foreign policy may be impacted by this conflict as the United States in the number one export destination for Guyanese goods– petroleum and mineral resources. If further conflict occurs with Venezuela, these exports may be reduced of fully stopped, impacting U.S. businesses that use Guyanese products. Additionally, the United States risks further economic strain if ExxonMobil is forced to stop drilling in the disputed Stabroek block. Much of this oil is then shipped to oil refineries in the United States for processing. If oil to these refineries is curtailed because of the conflict, there may be impacts on U.S. jobs.  This situation also poses a problem to U.S. national security.  Venezuela is currently in the midst of an economic crisis and is at risk of further civil strife. If this conflict is allowed to escalate, it may throw the destabilized nation, which is attempting to get Exxon to compensate it for many oil projects within its borders, further into chaos. This conflict has the potential to lead to potential regional instability, as Guyana has a huge economic stake in the exploitation of the disputed oilfields.

The Trump administration should reaffirm their continued support for economic development in the region; the administration should also voice strong support for a UN-led resolution for the dispute. Any further action– such as voicing support for Guyana’s claims– may risk making the situation worse.

The analysis I read was strong in information relating to the dispute but it didn’t state just how important the oil is to these two neighboring economies as well as not providing additional historical context behind the dispute.


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