Archive for November, 2017

The Philippines Maritime Perspective

Summary: This article from a Philippines media outlet focuses on the analysis of a Filipino expert on Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Dr. Jay Batongbacal. The main focus is the shift to a more friendly and conciliatory posture towards the actions of Beijing in the region under Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte. Despite China ignoring the 2016 UN international arbirtation decision that China was violating the Philippine’s EEZ, there has been some thaw in China’s policies as a result of Duterte’s stance. For example, while Chinese vessels had been previously interdicting Filipino fishermen in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, they are now allowed access, though in less advantageous spot than they utilized previously. Similarly, while some petroleum operations had previously ceased,  they now move forward as a joint venture with China. Batongbacal characterizes this response to international law in Realist terms, “This demonstrates the reality of what happens in a clash between legal right and raw power…” He further noted the failure of the recent ASEAN summit to adequately address the SCS conflict, and highlighted the power projection of China’s artificial islands. Faced with the reality that the Philippines couldn’t adopt strong measures in response, he provides some analysis of the gains of the more conciliatory stance towards China. Overall he notes that while the situation might contribute to better communication and potential resolution of issues, the unhealthy nature of the relationship may prevent that, and the economic opportunities China offers to the Philippines may create a dependent relationship. He also notes that the increased military sales might threaten an increase in authoritarianism of the Duterte regime. He also worries that any further arbitration efforts may not be sufficiently strong or enforceable. Ultimately, the issue of enforceability is key to any successful legal resolution.


Analysis: As the Philippines is one of the nations most effected by Chinese policies in the SCS, and has so far been the forefront of any international legal efforts to resolve the conflict, it warrants an examination. Duterte’s shift from previous Philippine policy, which was more confrontational towards China, has been controversial, and has lead to mixed results. While it may simply be an attempt to hedge bets between the rock and hard place of Chinese belligerency and a lack of an effective national and international counter, his policies may end up against his stated long term goals. If Dr. Batongbacal is correct that the new relationship, which includes a deepening of economic ties, is one that fosters economic and political dependence, it would be against the long-term vision of a more independent Philippines that Duterte has previously cited as a justification from severing many traditional ties with the US. This dependence is only likely to deepen if Duterte continues to be reliant on Chinese military sales and economic loans to supplant his previous sources in fighting his expansive anti-drug war and periodic conflicts with terrorist and separatist groups. If the Philippines can only access economically vital resources such as fisheries and petroleum exploration with Chinese acquiescence and cooperation, they risk becoming a vassal state within their own territorial waters under international law. Dr. Batongbacal is also correct that without a sufficient enforcement mechanism, the existing laws and arbitration efforts, and any future efforts, are doomed to failure.

Are Muslim Extremists Using the U.S. Mexico Border?

Following the horrific terrorist attack at an Egyptian mosque President Trump tweeted out, “Will be calling the President of Egypt in a short while to discuss the tragic terrorist attack, with so much loss of life. We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Need the WALL, need the BAN! God bless the people of Egypt.”

President Trump believes that having a wall will lower the likelihood of Muslim extremists coming to the U.S. in addition to Mexican drug cartels and illegal immigrants. There has been records of terrorist groups cutting deals with Mexican cartels to get both people and weapons into the U.S. However, the border is by no means vulnerable to terrorism, it isn’t a route that they are willing to to take as there are more way to get into the U.S besides violating the law. Even with little evidence of terrorists using the southern border as a means to get past customs there is still a probability that they could utilize a weak border. In addition, there have been people caught at the border who were linked to terrorist organizations in the past. But, most terrorist attack have been carried out by second generation citizens or other homegrown/lone wolf terrorists. Many experts have said there are better security measures the U.S. could be taking to secure our southern borders and keep terrorists ‘out’ besides reiterating to build a wall.



Amazon working for CIA

Amazon introduced Secret Region, a new service specifically for the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community. The program  is meant to handle data that’s been classified at the “secret” level. Amazon has offered the CIA a Top Secret Region since 2014 as part of a $600 million deal. The extension of that older CIA deal with this new service underlines the market dominance of Amazon, even in the intelligence community. The largest Amazon Web Services region is US-East-1, a facility in Northern Virginia, making the idea of helping out the CIA and other intelligence agencies much more feasible due to close proximity to Washington. A key difference from that original deal though, is that “Secret Region” will be available to non-intelligence government agencies too, as long as they file the right paperwork. The government and Amazon are promoting the new service as a way for the US intelligence community to modernize its infrastructure and more quickly get more information to the appropriate people. It is really interesting that the government is turning to such a large public enterprise for something as sensitive as classified materials. Logically, Amazon is a great way to modernize the infrastructure of the intelligence agencies, but I think that it could potentially be a disaster if Amazon is hacked. Attacking Amazon would negatively impact a lot of different aspects of the U.S. and could be detrimental to security.


War with Hezbollah

Iran’s top military commander stated that, “the Islamic Republic will intervene in any future conflict between Israel and its paramilitary ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah.” Mohammed Ali Jafri who is the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps explained that Lebanon was Israel’s main focus and that Iran and its proxy forces would intervene against an attack and said that, “It is a proven claim that today we say any new war will lead to the eradication of the Zionist regime.” Jafri’s statement was made because of the rising tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the rival nation’s proxy wars throughout the Middle East and Lebanon. The comment made by Jafri is problematic to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East in general and suggests that the increasing tensions may lead to war and if that happens Hezbollah will “eradicate” Israel. I think that Israel will continue spending money to protect its borders to stop Hezbollah from forming a foothold on the border.


Downed in the Pacific

Following up on the Futenma post from a few weeks back, once again the United States faces a loss of Military aircraft off of Okinawa. This time a Navy C2-A transport plane has crashed into the ocean off of the coast of the island, taking with it 11 crew members, 3 of which are still currently missing (3 have already been rescued). This year has been a hard one for the United States 7th fleet (based in Japan), with multiple crashes and shake-ups of leadership. To read the full details please check out:

While no Self-Defense Force members were caught up in this crash, the slight uptick in disasters plus a restructuring of leadership can’t seem overwhelmingly positive to them. With tensions already running high on the viability of continuing American presence on the islands and an increase in tension due to continuing rape by service members allegations and plane crashes, the United States must think deeply on ways to stop these events from happening should they wish for their bases to continue as they are.


Map of all U.S. bases in Japan

Who’s debugging the bug bounty programs?


          DJI, a drone maker, accused an independent cyber-security researcher of hacking its servers, while the researcher claims he found a private key that was publicly posted on a code-sharing site named Github. The researcher, Kevin Finisterre, asserts that he accessed unencrypted flight logs, passports, driver licenses, and identification cards. He approached DJI to claim a “bug bounty” reward of up to $30,000, which DJI offers for discovering security weaknesses in its systems. DJI initially offered Finisterre the reward, but reneged claiming that he refused to abide with the terms of its bug bounty program. Specifically, Finisterre did not “responsibly discover and disclose” the security issue. Finisterre published an email from DJI, which denoted that security issues with servers are covered in its program. Furthermore, about a month after the report was submitted, DJI revealed a clause in the terms of the program stating he cannot publicly disclose his research without written consent. Finisterre believes this clause violates his freedom of speech.

          Bug bounty programs are offered by many large tech companies to incentive people to share security weaknesses instead of exploiting them. Usually, researchers will report their findings to the company involved, provide a time frame for the bugs to be fixed, and then publish their research.

          The main takeaway from this article is Professor Alan Woodward’s point that cyber-security is an area in which there is no governmental organization, standards agency, or the like to reinforce the public’s right to be informed about security issues involving their personal information. The ethical hackers and security researchers are the ones who are supporting this right, according to Woodward. Based on this information, it would be beneficial for the United States government to provide oversight regarding the operation of bug bounty programs. Such oversight would go a long way in ensuring that private citizens are informed promptly when their personal information has been hacked. It would also encourage ethical hackers and security researchers to continue to participate in these programs, because they would not have to worry about ambiguities as to how they work.


Parallel Talks Convene Regarding Future Peace in Syria

In separate talks nations will meet to discuss the future of Syria. Officials from Turkey, Iran and Russia met in Turkey to discuss the upcoming meeting of their leaders in Sochi this Wednesday. All sides want maintain peace and control in Syria now that ISIS had been defeated. Russia appears to hold the most power and influence in Syria and Turkish president Erdoğan is leaning on Russia to address the rising numbers of Kurds in the region. Russia is concentrating mostly own keeping certain areas of Syria as de-escalation zones. Turkey, Iran and Russia are supporting the current Assad regime.

In opposition to the Sochi meeting, opponents of the Assad regime will meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss their plans for the region. Syrian Opposition and coalition forces are hoping for UN involvement to assure democratic elections can take place and should it turn out that Assad is voted out of power there are hopes that the UN would step in to help assure a peaceful transition of power. This meeting in Saudi Arabia is to prepare for the The UN peace talks that will resume in Geneva on November 28th.


Although the US has mainly focused on the eradication of ISIS in Syria, attention must be paid to who will fill the power vacuum in the country. President Trump seems to have no interest in ousting the Assad regime (although it was a priority and condition of the previous administration). While the heavy Russian, Iranian and Turkish influence in the area may provide some stability, the situation with the Kurds remains a security concern in the area for everyone. Russia also used their veto power in the UN to block investigations into Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people earlier this year. This is a concern because if things escalate, it is possible that these weapons that many now assume exist could be deployed in the future.



Venezuela’s Leading Officials Accused of Killing Thousands

Venezuela’s former chief prosecutor has petitioned the International Criminal Court to investigate President Maduro and four other senior officials. Louisa Ortega has accused the president and the other officials of murdering over 8,000 people since 2015 through the use of the country’s security forces. It is necessary to take this accusation to the international courts considering the high level of corruption in Venezuela; a case such as this would never be brought up in the Socialist led country due to the entire government being under the control of Maduro’s regime. Ortega hopes the courts will take the case given the extensive evidence she has provided and address it as a clear violation of human rights. This case shows Venezuela’s complete failure to protect its citizens; the president of the nation is have armed security forces murder those who voice any opposition to his ruling. The people of Venezuela can not rely on their government for any kind of legitimate protection or service at all, and it has become increasingly more true as the years go on. As long as President Maduro and his regime remains in power, the nation’s citizens will have very little security in their government.


Bombing Poppy Fields

This week the US and Afghan forces have begun bombing opium farms in Afghanistan. It is believed that the Taliban has been funding its operations through the cultivation of the poppy plant. This appears to make sense in theory that by depleting their means of funding, it would disrupt their capabilities. I would that short term ramifications would be strong, however just as we have seen in South America, once the drug farming has been dismantled in Afghanistan, it will pop up in full capacity in another country. It is not known if the Taliban would be able to benefit from the profits of growing poppy in a geographical area that they do not already control. It would seem this is a logical course of action to bring down the Taliban.


South China Sea a Contributing Factor in Demand for Patrol Aircraft

Summary: The market for Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), which are used in both ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) and ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) applications, are expected to grow at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 4.71% over the 2017-2021 period. A major driver for this market activity is the South China Sea dispute, where tensions have been on the rise over China’s artificial island building and militarization. As these tensions grow, they drive increased acquisition for advanced ISR assets like MPA.

Analysis: This trend is unsurprising, as the increased tensions and activity in the SCS naturally increases the need for ISR assets to gather constant Intel of any new developments that could further change the balance of power or cause an escalation in the situation. Additionally, most MPA assets are dual-role capable aircraft, armed with anti-submarine and/or anti-ship ordnance, or even conventional bombs (as strategic bombers have sometimes been pressed into this role). This allows the flexibility to gather Intel, but be able to easily switch to a war footing if the situation were to escalate into open conflict, making them equally attractive as assets no matter how the situation develops.

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