Archive for November, 2017

History’s Most Heated Discussion on Tourism

In this week’s post, South Korea and China have decided to put a year long quarrel over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD. After a year of Chinese retaliation against South Korea involving the cutting of package tour groups and hurting South Korean companies operating in China. Markets reacted positively to this news as China accounts for one quarter of South Korean exports. South Korea still maintains that the missile defense system is not to upset the “strategic equilibrium” of the region but to defend itself from a belligerent North Korea.

This meeting’s significance cannot be understated. This meeting comes immediately after President Xi’s consolidation of the Communist Party in China and also ahead of President Trump’s tour of Asia. This can be seen as a move by China to take away any of President Trump’s cards in dealing with China and South Korea over the issues of trade or (more importantly) North Korea by playing them off each other.


Hey, Congress? Or Hey, Democrats?



          This week’s congressional hearings regarding Russia’s intrusion into the 2016 U.S. presidential election have come under fire, due to the focus on technology and social media companies as the catalysts in stopping such foreign intrusion, not the federal government. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., stated “What we are talking about is the beginning of cyber warfare” and “[tech companies] have to be the ones that do something about it.” The hearings were presumed to gather information from Facebook, Twitter, and Google about what appeared on their platforms during the election, in order to figure out how the government could work with social media companies to combat foreign intrusion in future elections. However, the inquiry seemed to be aimed at holding these private companies responsible.

          The author of this opinion piece, Charles Sauer, argues that, “harsh criticism of social media companies seems more like a convenient political message than an attempt to understand the truth and actually stem the tide of propaganda.” Furthermore, he narrows the criticism down to stemming from Democrats in Congress. The author praises one Republican Senator for urging everyone to stop and consider the complexity of the problem on a global scale. By distinguishing between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, it seems that Sauer is sending a “convenient political message” of his own, which weakens his argument. Additionally, Sauer presents a contradictory argument because he encourages others to follow the lead of the Republican Senator and acknowledge the complexity of combatting foreign online intrusion, but also comments that Congress should be able to “out-Twitter the Russians” with the half a trillion dollars it spends annually on defense. Which is it, then? A complex problem that requires a careful balance between “cracking down on foreign online influence and preserving the freedom of online expression,” or a simple problem that government money can easily fix.


Deterring the unthinkable: NATO’s role along the Eastern flank

Hans and Anika Binnendijk report that NATO will soon be discussing how best to improve its deterrence posture at the 2018 summit. Messrs. Hans and Anika have rightly noticed in their commentary that Russian aggression has increased markedly since the 2013 annexation of Crimea and that NATO brigades in the Baltic states are vulnerable to Russian attacks, demonstrated during the recent 2017 Zapad exercises. I wonder though, if the Binnendijk’s might realize that the deterrence posture of NATO–specifically the uptick of military support to the Baltic states such as Latvia–is precisely what is causing the perceived bellicosity on the part of the Russians. If the Binnendijk’s wish for NATO to prevent what they call a “miscalculation” where Moscow and the West end up in a major conflict, they may have to consider that its the very large NATO military build-up along neighboring states that makes Putin and the Duma so agitated.



The Indigenous People of Mexico

As the 2018 Mexican election cycle continues, it comes as a great surprise that a completely grassroots campaign is gaining immense ground on the political campaigning stage. Yet, it’s her platform as a representative to the indigenous people that makes Maria de Jesus Patricio’s run historic for the nation. Much like her background of living as a indigenous women, she doesn’t conform to the modern political physique, dressing in her embroidered indigiouness blouse, pants or skirt which is a complete contrast to her opponents. Her ‘campaign crew’ consists of a handful of ski-masked Zapatista rebels who pledged their support for her in the southern region Chiapas. Campaign efforts for her are in full swing as they need to get 866,000 signatures by Feb 12, to get her on the ballot. Many view her as a way to give a voice to the impoverished indigenous people and insert their ideas into the political sphere that they currently aren’t represented in. Her platform also voices concern for the current capitalist system in Mexico as she believes that the government should run in an anti-capitalist and honest way. She is even formally running for the indigenous people which has never happened before in Mexico’s history. However, even with her obvious support and loyal followers, she still likely won’t win the presidency or even the ballot, but her vast support ranging from thousands of signatures already gathered and people willing to host benefit concerts are turning people’s attentions nonetheless. Will we see her on the ballot next July? Time will tell. If there’s one thing Patricio has shown thus far, it is that you can’t count her out of the game, especially when so many people in Mexico are fed up with the current regime.



Moving Forward?

Article Nine of the Japanese Constitution is facing one of its most potent threats to date this last week. Shinzo Abe, fresh off of his win in the recent snap elections, is now looking to rewrite the constitution in order to “legitimize the Japanese Self-Defense Force.” Currently, he and his party have enough seats in both chambers of the Japanese Diet to revise the Constitution. This has angered the large pacifist portion of the population in the country, and has led to protests in Tokyo over the week. President Trump will touchdown in Tokyo for the first leg of his Asia tour among this unrest.

Considering Trump’s stance on our nuclear umbrella with Japan during the campaign season, and his current preoccupation with trying to bully North Korean Dictator Kim Jung-Un over Twitter, it’s hard to say what – if any – reaction the president will have over this move. If Article Nine is significantly reworked or even erased altogether however, the continued presence of American military installations on the islands may be called into further question. As these bases are the center for our forward deployment in Asia, it would be unwise for the President to dismiss this change out of hand.


Intelligence Mistakes Led to Deaths of Army Special Forces

The recent news of the deaths of four U.S. Army Special Forces operators in Niger, has circulated the news because it is just one example in a series of US intelligence failures. The officers were ambushed because of a failure of our intelligence assets to identify the presence of dozens of ISIS or al Qaeda-affiliated fighters and sympathizers in the area. It is in part a result of the fractionated American intelligence community, which is split among 16 agencies. All of these agencies are responsible to answer and report to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), an independent bureau with cabinet-level status. To make the picture a little clearer: the CIA is our primary foreign intelligence service, the Department of Homeland Security operates an Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the Department of Justice contains the FBI, among many other agencies that belong to the Defense Department. So although the US intelligence system covers all bases, the overall system is very inefficient and this inefficiency leads to mistakes, which can lead to deaths in the military/intelligence community.

Alleged Collusion between Iran and al-Qaeda

The CIA released documents that were seized during the 2011 raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden which appear to boost claims that Iran supported the organization leading up to the September 11th attacks. Iran continues to deny that they had and have any involvement with al-Qaeda. One document appears to show al-Qaeda’s relationship with Iran explaining that Iran offered the organization’s fighters “money and arms and everything they need, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia.” The documents also say that, “bin Laden referred to Iran as the ‘main artery’ for al-Qaeda to move funds, personnel and communications.” It is not clear if Iran really did work with al-Qaeda for the 9/11 attack, but they did indicate that Iran and al-Qaeda had an agreement not to target each other. Al-Qaeda and Iran are not enemies, but not exactly allies either. I think that the U.S. may find out more information on the Iran-al-Qaeda connection if they comb through a lot of the new documents and translate them.


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