Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Final Exam

Defense Statecraft

Final Exam

April 29, 2008

Please answer one of the three following questions. The exam is due at 5:45pm today.

1. The time frame for developing new advanced weapon systems can now be measured in decades. Many defense analysts, however, have argued that we now live in an age of uncertain and unpredictable threats. What are the implications of this apparent contradiction for military procurement, doctrine, and grand strategy?
2. Some have argued that the elevation of General David Petraeus to command of CENTCOM indicates that counter-insurgency advocates have won the day in the US Army. Consider this argument, and discuss the pros and cons of refocusing US military efforts around the problem of counter-insurgency.
3. Compare and contrast the efforts of Iran and the United States to shape the future of Iraq. What military means have each employed to ensure a friendly government in Baghdad? How have each attempted to defeat the strategy of the other?

Russia: Georgia Prepared to Invade Abkhasia

Article link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7373263.stm

Russia has said that Georgia is building troops on the border of the breakaway province of Abkhasia, heightening tensions a week after Russians shot down a Georgian plane - while the Russians accused Abkhasians of the deed. Georgians have denied the new allegations, and are accusing the Russians of stirring things up. They even admitted that such a troop buildup would indeed heighten tensions. This is yet another example of unrest between the Russians and one of the countries formerly occupied by the Soviet Union.

Russia is clearly doing its part to promote instability in Georgia, as well as other places, perhaps so they might re-exert their influence if things go badly. Russia has taken an overwhelmingly aggressive stance towards its former subordinates, and this situation is no different. Russia has used its natural resources to hold Ukraine in submission, and Belarus is little more than a puppet at this point. The question is, should the US be concerned with these developments, or is it best to let Russia exert authority within its immediate area, and challenge them on the global stage on issues like Iran? In reality, the US isn't likely to do much in this instance, but if trends continue, a confrontation is likely - it would be difficult for the US to stand by and allow similar things to happen repeatedly.

The Axis of Evil Statesmen

This week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad cemented his position in the Axis of Evil Statesmen by traveling to New Delhi for a visit with President Manmohan Singh, the sole purpose of which was to spite the United States.

The New York Times reports Ahmedinejad was not there to, “sign…path-breaking bilateral deals,” nor was he, “trying to iron out the kinks in a proposed 1600-mile-long natural gas pipeline.” Rather, he was there to let the Indian president shake hands with a man America hates.

This move should garner President Singh a bump in support from the majority of Indians who believe their nation should assert its independence from the US. Luckily this symbolic gesture won’t actually interfere with any US policies, so in the short-term it’s a win-win-win for everyone involved.

However, combine (a) Iran’s push for nuclear weapons, (b) the recent US policy of giving India nuclear technology, and (c) a growing Indian-Iranian relationship focused on the common interests of (i) energy and (ii) not doing what the US wants; and the long-term outlook becomes somewhat disturbing in a nuclear-proliferationy kind of way.

But regardless of long-term ramifications, Ahmedinejad is clearly using a high-profile international visit to circumvent and disrupt official US State Department policy, which earns him a place alongside Presidents Jimmy Carter and Hugo Chavez in the ranks of the Axis of Evil Statesmen.

Monday, April 28, 2008

And so it Begins!

After a relative lull in the fighting, it would appear that things have begun to heat up in Afghanistan over the weekend. Sunday bore witness a nice little celebration marking the Afghan victory over the Soviets some 16 years ago. It featured a military procession and lots of dignitaries sitting in stands listening to long speeches.

However, this event was also seen as a superb target for the insurgency. In turn, Taliban fighters took it upon themselves to fire a couple of rounds and some grenades at the podium seating President Karzai. Mayhem ensued and Karzai was rushed of the stage as several got killed and insured. Needless to say, the celebrations came to an abrupt halt. In response to the attack, significant numbers of Afghan troops crowded the streets of Kabul on Monday to prevent any further attacks from taking place and to flush out Taliban collaborators.

More importantly, a huge offensive was launched by Marines into Southern Afghanistan on Tuesday morning to regain parts of Helmand province. This would mark the first major offensive against the Taliban by American forces in years and is designed to drive back some of the gains that the militants had achieved over the winter. According to military officials the Taliban had of course been warned of the assault and had supposedly prepared explosives etc. to counter the advance of Marine forces. In turn, the Marines are utilizing their full arsenal of Humvees, helicopters, and airstrike to prevent any significant resistance from taking place.

It would seem that fighting in Afghanistan is about to enter a new phase. Not only have the Taliban become bolder in their attacks but the US military has decided to strike deep into Taliban territory to weaken the insurgency. Although nothing concrete has manifested, it should be clear that the next several days will bear witness to some crucial events that could determine the course of the fight in Afghanistan. Should the Marine offensive proof successful a significant part of the Taliban support base could be undermined. On the other hand should the Afghan government prove incapable of providing security for its own president during national celebrations, the Taliban might be able to prove to the people that it is there to stay. In turn, things could turn very sour for NATO troops in future months.

Tanks in Space?

As we all know the Air Force has pretty much dominated all Space related systems and operations. However, it would appear that the US Army has decided that it was time to turn up the heat and see how much better they can be at this space business. According to Military.com the Army has announced that it will launch eight satellites into space over the next nine months. This would be the first time in over 50 years that the Army has shown and active interest in space.

According to the article these satellites would be rather small in size, only weighing five pounds each, and would be used for communications. Apparently there are large swathes of the developing world in which the Army lacks secure access to communication satellites and has so far relied on commercial vendors. As part of the shift in focus toward these new areas of conflict the Army feels it necessary to acquire in house assets to protect communication and increase its range of operations. Although the Army stated that it did not want to directly challenge the dominance of the Air Force in space, one of its officers did comment that "a little competition never hurt anyone".

The fact that the Army is attempting its own satellite launches does seem odd to me. Why didn't they simply contact Air Force and ask them to place more communication satellites in space? It would seem the Air Force probably has a huge comparative advantage in space technology etc. that would make them much more efficient at developing and moving satellites. It would appear that the Army is simply trying to extend its bureaucratic reach. Maybe it fears that it is being sidelined by its large peace keeping operations in the development of future war assets. Or maybe its just had a tough time to get the Air Force to do its bidding and is therefore attempting to develop its own capabilities. This last point would speak badly for the whole "jointness" effort as discussed in class.

Pakistan Problems, Con't

Since September 11th, the US has given Pakistan $10 billion in aid. Despite this, Al Qaeda's influence has not lessened, and, in fact, US intelligence officials say that the group is now stronger than it has been in years.

The most current agreement with the new Pakistani government "would require the tribes to expel foreign militants, cease their own attacks and kidnappings, and allow freedom of movement to the Frontier Corps, the local security force. The deal also calls for an exchange of prisoners in return for the gradual withdrawal of the Pakistani military from part of the tribal region of South Waziristan."

So far, the deal has caused the mastermind of Benazir Bhutto's assassination to demand that all of his forces cease actions.

Still, it has been reported that US officials are not fond of this deal. Despite pouring tons of money into the country, the US has not come up with a better plan. A congressional investigation found that the US failed to come up with a "comprehensive plan," that is, one that involves diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement and economic aid. Officials in the American embassy in Islamabad said that the US's over reliance of military interventions in the region is because of "a lack of a more comprehensive counterterrorism approach."

The administrations inability to deal more effectively with Pakistan is another example of its struggle to effectively fight COIN in the region.

This is why we can't have Nice Things

The US Navy, in an impressive display of multi-tasking, not only established a new fleet last week, but also managed to give itself two huge black eyes. It seems that rum runners and Hugo Chavez aren’t enough of a challenge for our Navy, which opts to spend its extra energy ‘whistle blowing’ and ‘making sure its officers do their jobs.’

April 20th saw not one, but two reports by the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (InSurv) detailing woefully, if not pathetically, maintained surface combatant ships. Named in these reports were the Chosin, an Aegis class cruiser, and the Stout, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer.

Despite the inherent differences in the ships, their shortcomings were surprisingly similar. In both cases, the ships’ flight decks were rendered unusable by a variety of problems, the ships’ combat systems had numerous issues, including guns, close-in weapons and missile cells which COULD NOT FIRE. There were also problems with rudders, communications equipment, anchors, engines, radar, and life-saving equipment, the likes of which should have shamed the captain of a ship-wrecked shrimp boat, let alone an active warship.

Just to be clear, the barrels on some of the 5-inch guns had CRACKS in them and the fuel leaks in the missile cells meant missile launch would likely result in an EXPLOSION. But given all the other problems, the only hope these ships had of any offensive capabilities would involve igniting them and ramming enemy vessels (if they could muster the steering ability and engine power). So maybe the fuel leaks are a good thing.

So now the bad news…these ships were from different fleets in different oceans, suggesting what one retired admiral has dubbed, “an endemic problem in the force.” To be fair, both ships had just returned from deployments, and are scheduled for upgrades and maintenance. However, they are still supposed to be combat-ready and -capable. Clearly they are not, and the commanders of each vessel should be held accountable.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Making Some Waves

This week the US Navy has announced several interesting changes to its Americas policy. It recreated an independent fleet to deal with the southern waters, managed to royally annoy Hugo Chavez via a "steam-by", and sent a nifty new stealth boat to help fight the war on drugs.

The big announcement was obviously the re-establishment of the Fourth fleet that would be responsible for all Navy ships, aircraft, and submarines operating in the Caribbean, Central, and South America. Apparently this was a response to the increased role of maritime force in the US Southern Command(SOUTHCOM) are of operations, and to demonstrate US commitment to regional partners. Although seems to be a reasonable move for the US Navy, the question that i have is about the timing of this move. Has there been some unreported increase of activities by pirates and terrorists in the southern hemisphere of America that i am unaware of? It would seem to me that this is another attempt for the US Navy to bully some of its southern neighbours. Maybe the continued rise of Brazil has finally made Navy planners realize they might be facing a near peer competitor of the future on their own continent. Or maybe they are simply trying to give more fiery speech writing material for Hugo.

Speaking of giving Hugo more material for condemning the US and pronouncing its eventual burial by the bolivarian revolution: Apparently the USS George Washington aircraft carrier did an unauthorized "steam-by" off the coast of Venezuela a couple of days ago. As expected Hugo was pissed. He denounced it as unlawful and felt compelled to predict that he will bury the old empire of the USA. Interestingly enough he made a reference to the fact that apparently Venezuela and Brazil have been creating the Defense Council of South America. This could be further motivation for the US Navy re-establishing that Fourth Fleet.

Lastly, the US Navy also deployed a sweet stealth ship to Columbia to assist in the War on Drugs. This Stiletto ship has apparently been reaping lots of praise but has generally failed to receive a lot of Pentagon backing. According to InsideDefense.com this new ship class has a very shallow draft, in order to maneuver very close to coastlines, and a top speed of over 50 knots, to easily outrun boats used by drug smugglers. However, so far this boat is listed as unarmed and lacks the sonar capability it would need to detect those crude submarines we have been hearing about. This comes as great surprise to me considering all the difficulties that Navy has experienced in procuring new ship designs. Both the Littoral Combat Ship and the Zumwalt class destroyers have been pushed back significantly. Its nice to see that not all is lost in the procurement effort!!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Social Scientists' Downfall

The DoD's Human Terrain System sets out to "recruit academics whose area expertise and language skills can help the military wage a smarter counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. These specialists, among other things, are meant to map the population of towns and villages, identify the clans that matter and the fault lines within them, then advise U.S. commanders on the right approach for leveraging local support."

Since its inception, there have been many criticisms against the HTS. Most criticisms have to do with the lack of credintials of the social scientists on the team. For example, of the 19 social scientist on the team in Iraq, only a few are Middle East experts and only three speak Arabic.

Gates response to the criticism was to say that the program is still nascent and that it will--in time--become more effective.

If people are going to criticize the HTS, they should be critical--not of the administration (did I just say that?)--but of social scientists as a whole. It's not that the administration isn't capable of finding the scientists, it's that there are not enough who are willing to participate. On average, the anthropologists receive $300,000 annually plus a sign on bonus, so it is not as if the pay is insufficient.

At the American Association of Anthropologists annual conference last December, Zenia Helbig (a former researcher with the HTS) spoke about her experiences. She explained how she agreed with the idea of the HTS, but that the administration was not properly implementing it. Her remarks:

Having spent four months with the Army, I can’t stress to you the tremendous need for both social science and academic rigor in the military. More particularly... the Army is in need of regional experts, who possess a knowledge of the history, culture and languages of both Iraq and Afghanistan... Yet even HTS, despite its millions of dollars of funding, is proving incapable of delivering those much needed skills to the military in Iraq. HTS has proven unable to deliver because of its own internal tensions, and due to a lack of professionalism, organization, and general competence on the part of its staff, contractors and administrators.

After her remarks, the attendants began to ask questions. One person asked if she was embarrassed that her husband, who was still working for the HTS. The audience started laughing, and Helbig began to cry.

After the incident, Helbig told a reporter, "they just didn't want to hear anything that didn't jive with their conspiracy theories."

Academics need to realize the difference between jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Anthropologists are denying assistance to the US military because they believe that the initial decision to go to war was unjust. I guess, they may also believe that the way the military is fighting is unjust. For the most part, though, this is not true. The social scientists would be helping the Iraqi citizens more by improving the HTS than by allowing the US military to continue its fumbling COIN tactics and strategies on its own.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

NATO Reform, for Canada's sake

Time magazine ran a story this week focusing on Canada’s experience in the war in Afghanistan. It’s hardly a revelation (to our class anyway) that Canadian forces have experienced the highest death rate of any ISAF participant. However, it’s somewhat more alarming that with 82 dead out of a force of 2,500, Canada has had a higher percentage of its troops KIA in Afghanistan than the US in Iraq.

Such a high toll in Canadian lives and mounting domestic opposition have driven the Canadian Parliament to demand 1,000 NATO reinforcements as well as a shift in the duty of Canadian ISAF troops away from combat operations. In return they have guaranteed a Canadian presence in Afghanistan through 2011.

Ranked #14 in the world for net military expenditures, it’s not unreasonable to expect Canada to make a significant contribution to NATO missions. What is unreasonable is letting other, more powerful NATO allies off the hook. The major coalition combatants in Afghanistan are the US, UK, Denmark (!) and the Netherlands.

Admittedly, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, etc… do have sizeable deployments in Afghanistan, but these forces are all severely hindered by their home governments in their ability to actually engage with the Taliban. So although it’s nice to have them around, they could be doing a lot more.

While it would be difficult for domestic political reasons for NATO to require all countries to share combat duties equally, there must be some mechanism to reward those nations that shoulder the burden. As Time suggests, “NATO rules should be rewritten to ensure that countries that invest disproportionate military and financial resources should have some of their costs subsidized by the alliance.”

Such a step would ensure that all alliance members continue to contribute to trans-Atlantic security as the NATO mission shifts to address post-Cold War threats.

Moscow's Bold Signal

Moscow continues to deny involvement in the Georgian UAV that was shot down on April 20th, proclaiming that the jet was actually an Abkhazi L-39. Tbilisi stands firm in arguing that the jet is a Russian MiG-29.

There are several reasons why it is conceivable that Russia shot down the drone to signal to NATO that Georgian membership is a bad idea.

The incident occurred over the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia in Georgia. Abkhazia is one of three unrecognized regions in Georgia that has recently experienced an increased push towards independence since Kosovo's independence declaration. Because a majority of the population living in Abkhazia is ethnically Russian, there is somewhat of a push for Russia to recognize its independence. This push, however, is countered by Moscow's fear that recognition would rile up Chechnya's separatist movement. The Russian Duma addressed the status of these three regions just last month and decided to postpone the issue. Duma deputy Sergei Markov commented on the issue saying that it would be addressed "only when that issue is really pressing. It is not out of the question that it could be provoked by other events. It is the opinion of many Russian politicians, for example, that if Georgia wants to join NATO, then they can do so without Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Many support this position."

Now, fast-forward to the NATO Summit meeting earlier this month when Bush's firm support for starting a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine and Georgia was met with disdain from France, Germany, Italy, Benlux, and especially Russia. Bush was unwavering in his support for the MAP, arguing that "it would send a signal throughout the region that these two nations are, and will remain, sovereign and independent states.”

It seems that Russia--maddened by Bush's vigor--may have sent a signal of its own....

It is evident in Markov's comment above that Russia wanted to do something to protest Georgian membership into NATO, but it knows that it must avoid opening a pandora's box with the Chechnya situation. It is possible that instead, the Russians decided to shoot down the Georgian UAV with the intention of reminding NATO members how risky Georgian NATO membership would be. The Russians could have reasoned that NATO would perceive the action one of two ways: 1. Abkhazi separatists are responsible for the missile firings, that is, Georgia is a largely unstable country or 2. Russia is responsible, that is, Georgia is involved in a conflict with Russia. Either of these perceptions would lead NATO to conclude that Georgia is an unattractive NATO candidate. If this is true, this unprecedented aggression towards Georgia is a pretty bold move.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Total Obliteration

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton warned Tehran on Tuesday that if she were president, the United States could "totally obliterate" Iran in retaliation for a nuclear strike against Israel.

This statement from an article out of Reuters seems to insinuate that her opponent Barack Obama would not do the same. Of course, on a key primary election day in Pennsylvania critics charged her with sabre rattling to shore up a failing campaign. Clinton has to win big in Pennsylvania just to stay alive.

There seems to be no response from the Obama camp, but based on historical close ties with Israel, it seems Clinton's statement is a little moot. After all, although the US holds no formal commitment to defend Israel from Iran, such hostility would likely trigger world rebuke from all but a few rogue states. (North Korea, Sudan, perhaps China). The US fearing little in the way of a direct Iranian attack would likely face little consequences for a nuclear retaliation.

So does it matter if Clinton spatters such invective? Likely not. Obama and McCain would do the same. They just don’t have to say it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Not so Quiet on the Eastern Front

Although most analysts and commentators (myself included) continue to fret about the implications about a reemerging Russia it would seem that it continues to face significant internal challenges. This week saw issues in Chechnya return to the front page of many media outlets as schisms have erupted between some of the warlords running security inside the region. According to a Reuters article one of the Chechen commanders involved in the fighting has leveled accusations against the supposed pro-Kremlin Ramzan Kadyrov of preparing for open rebellion against Russian rule.

Since most of the security in Chechnya has been bought by paying bribes to local commanders such as Kadyrov it would seem that Russia has very little influence in the region. Most of the Russian soldiers in the region remain in their bases and all of local security is handled by private militia forces. The Chechen commander mentioned in the article claims that Kadyrov has simply been biding his time and is now in a position to openly rebel at any moment. He sites the increased clashes between security forces as evidence that conflict is about to erupt in the region. According to the reporter of the article most of the Chechen forces also enjoy privileged access to Russia's newest weapons as part of the bargain that keeps things quiet in Chechnya.

Little has been heard from the Kremlin on this issue. This should come as little surprise , however, as they would hate to give Kadyrov and his forces any reason to attempt a break away. This is especially true considering the fact that Russia has finally reemerged as a world player and a devastating internal conflict would certainly ruin these aspirations.

Maybe the US can learn a lesson from Russia's troubles. Apparently buying off a bunch of local warlords is not an effective means of governing a region in the long run. Current efforts in Iraq would suggest that the US has experienced great success with the 90,000 Iraqi volunteers that are funded by the US. But the Russian example would suggest that bribing and arming some locals will only work so long. It would seem that this strategy is about to fail big time in Chechnya.

He's Alive!

We never thought we would see this guy again, but Tariq Azizuddin--Pakistani Ambassador to Iraq, who had been kidnapped last February--was seen in a video shown on Al Arabiya TV channel. In the video, Azisuddin pleaded for the Pakistani government to meet his captures demands to release Taliban prisoners.
Unfortunately for Mr. Azizudden, a senior Pakistani government official said, “As things stand right now, we are not going to negotiate with militants and we can’t release people [already in custody] in exchange [for Azizuddin]."
Past events, however, suggest that the captures demands may be met. Last summer, the Pakistani government gave into terrorists requests, releasing some 20 Islamic militants for about 250 military and paramilitary Pakistani hostages. Given the success of this exchange, Taliban leaders are likely to believe that this tactic will work in the future.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of threats, but on the same day, Pakistan--at an undisclosed location--successfully test-fired a long-range ballistic missile with a range of 1,245 miles.

It seems like Pakistan is making its way towards offering an effective counter-balance to India's nuclear capabilities. If only they would exert such energy towards fighting the terrorists' stronghold that exists in their own country!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Jackie Chan Defends His Homeland . . . And the Torch

So, according to a TV news report I saw the other day, Jackie Chan discussed his upcoming stint as torch-bearer, which will occur while the Olympic torch is in his native China. He derided those who have tried to interfere with the torch's proceedings, saying that they are just "trying to get attention." He also mentioned that he will be very upset if his route is interrupted - perhaps he will go "Rumble in Hong Kong" on whomever might try such a feat.

What's interesting here, at least to me, is idea that the Chinese government might have encouraged him to speak out, since he is such a well known figure in America. Surely he is in a tough spot, since his time outside of China will surely have introduced him to the fact that some of his country's policies are misguided, to say the least. But regardless, its sad whenever beloved stars are forced to defend their countries' policies, especially in a case like this.

It is, of course, rather unfortunate that no substantive debate has emerged from this situation- only whether or not we should boycott the Olympics, and if so to what extent. Its sad when beloved celebrities say things we don't agree with especially if there's a chance they were coerced into doing so. Surely we don't know Chan's motives, but if the government was behind what he said, it shows the sad state of freedom of speech in China.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Wollt ihr die totale Friedenssicherung?

Citing a recent increase in violence, German Army Chief of Staff, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, is requesting reinforcements for that nation’s 3,500 strong NATO contingent in northern Afghanistan.

According to Schneiderhan, Germany’s deployment, which more accurately numbers around 3,200 presently, is ‘stretched to the limit.’ He expects German trrops to face more attacks in their zones of control in the northern region of Afghanistan, which had until recently seen relatively low levels of violence.

As 26 German soldiers have been killed and dozens more wounded during the occupation of Afghanistan, German public opinion can be expected to resist an expanded presence in country, however Germany’s decision to stick to the still-less-violent northern regions should help mitigate the public’s objections.

The good news is, Schneiderhan is lobbying the German government for a larger deployment, showing that at least the Germany Army is committed to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Hopefully, the German regime will heed his advice and step up its troop levels to meet the growing challenge posed by the resurgent Taliban rather than passing the buck to other NATO allies.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Russia Listening In

Apparently flying rusty bombers over Alaska or close to US aircraft carriers is not the only thing that Russia has been up to. According to an article in the Economist Russia has been installing some pretty interesting spy antennas close to the border with Estonia, close to Pskov. This would allow the Russians to gain access to signals coming in and out of a major communications satellite that covers the region known as Atlantic Ocean Region-West. The satellite, Inmarsat 4-F2, carries a huge amount of voice and data traffic, both private and government, some of it secret. Apparently any data you send and receive via USB in Europe or America would go through this satellite. The discovery of the Russian efforts to install these eavesdropping stations was actually done through Google Earth which provides a nice picture of the entire set up. The article also notes that the island of Hogland has recently been declared a border zone by the FSB, thereby restricting access, and would be the only other area within Russian territory that is far enough West to allow Russia to monitor the satellite. No picture is available in high enough resolution to confirm any activities on the island, however. The new station in Pskov is apparently composed of several large satellite dishes, a guard tower, barracks, and a huge wall to screen it from outside view.

It would seem that Russia is continuing its efforts to expand its Cyberwar capabilities. This revelation should be an important heads up to western governments to become a little more concerned about securing their information access. Russia has experimented in the past with Cyber attacks on some of its smaller neighbours, Estonia in 2007, that proved it is very capable. Knowing that Russia can now eavesdrop at will on a ton of important information is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed. Good job by whoever is the guy with enough time to scan every bit of ground on the Russo-Estonian border with Google Earth to give the world a heads up on this issue.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

North Korea had a Nuclear Program???

In a shocking story from North Korea, everyone's favorite rogue state has decided to acknowledge something that most of the world knew a long time ago: that they had a nuclear weapons program. They are doing this in a private report, but the Kyodo News of Japan caught word of it, so now it is not so private. The whole thing hinged on accepting two major US allegations that 1) they had a secret uranium enrichment program, and 2) they shared nuclear technology with Syria. These are two key allegations that North Korean officials have vehemently denied since the accusations were introduced.

This, along with the agreement from North Korea to get rid of their weapons program, has been seen as a huge diplomatic success for President George W. Bush, who is wanting to be remembered for not only something positive in his administration but also for something other than the Iraq War. The deals with North Korea seem to be one of the successes he has been desiring. In return, North Korea, if they continue to cooperate, will be taken off the US' list of states who sponsor terrorism. This is a huge step with relations considering where tensions were a few years ago. It seems as if there were many skeptics of deals with this magnitude actually taking place. Either way, it's kind of a big deal.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Pentagon Unveils New Lie Detector

Article from MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23926278

The Pentagon has revealed its new anti-terror weapon, a hand-held lie detector device, that has already been used some in Iraq, and will now be deployed to Afghanistan to help determine who's a terrorist and who is not. Naturally, this has been met with a great deal of skepticism, as polygraphs are known for not being entirely accurate (of course, still accurate enough for people to go on TV, reveal their life's secrets, and destroy their families for cash.) Even better, these handheld devices are less accurate than polygraphs, as they are placed on the fingertip and cannot determine rate of breathing, blood pressure, etc. Also, polygraph technicians must take a 4 year course before administering the test, but these new devices will be used by enlisted soldiers following a 13 week course.

The argument is that it still helps, and is significantly better than a coin-flip. Hooray. The main thing it goes by is pulse, and I'm sure that innocent Afghanis don't have rapid pulses when being approached by US soldiers. So, instead of approaching each situation will caution, and maintaining a neutral stance to people whose allegiance is unknown, a small device will tell soldiers "hey, this guy's lying", while the chances that he's actually lying aren't much better than 50%. A real improvement, indeed.

Monday, April 07, 2008

"At the moment we can either afford to have the carriers, or the aircraft, but not both."

The US Navy has announced that in the coming decade it will experience a ‘strike fighter gap.’ That is to say between 2016 and 2025 it will need to replace a number of aging F/A-18s. Problem is, Defense News reports the new F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter won’t be ready in time and in sufficient numbers.

Due to this shortfall, the USN is currently considering three options: (1) upgrade older planes to keep them in service longer, (2) speed up the JSF program so new planes will be available in time, or (3) postpone JSF development and purchase 50 to 282 new F-18s.

Clearly option 1 is risky. Maybe the Navy would have better luck than the Army in dealing with old planes, but as we’ve seen over the past year, aging planes can fall apart in mid-flight. Add carrier take-offs and landings into the picture and the odds of a serious failure increase greatly. Option 2 on the other hand would be the most expensive, taking money away from other Navy projects.

Option 3 seems increasingly attractive, as it provides the Navy with a relatively cheap and safe solution to this dilemma. Conveniently, Boeing has just released a new version of the F-18, so the USN can still claim to be upgrading its forces while saving money.

While this is great news for the Navy, it has the US Air Force and Marines as well as the Royal Navy up in arms. Like the production of most goods, the F-35 JSF is subject to economies of scale. In other words, the more you build the cheaper they are to produce, so by holding up their end of the program, the USN is pushing greater costs on all parties interested in developing and purchasing the JSF.

For the Brits this is also received as a message that the F-35 is unnecessary and the Royal Navy might as well buy Eurofighters or Harriers for their two new carriers currently in production. Such a move would shoulder the Air Force with an even greater share of the cost of the JSF program.

But whatever the reaction of the British, a move by the Navy away from the JSF would be a major blow to the program, and at this late stage of the game would be detrimental to US interests.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Vegas' newest Elvis impersonator?

See the latest from Reuters:
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - It's "Love me tender" between the United States and France after President George W. Bush compared French President Nicolas Sarkozy with rock'n'roll singer Elvis Presley.

Bush told NATO leaders at a Bucharest summit on Thursday that when Sarkozy visited the United States recently, he was seen as "the latest incarnation of Elvis".

Such an example of "Burning love" marks a sea change from the "Suspicious minds" that clouded Franco-American relations under Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who often seemed to see Washington as "The devil in disguise".

Bush has made clear the diminutive French leader, who recently married another singer, Carla Bruni, is now his "Good luck charm" and "My little friend".

Sarkozy has shown he is "All shook up" by heaping praise on Bush as the first U.S. leader to understand the need for a strong European defense.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, writing by Paul Taylor)

Now while I accept the importance of a thaw in relations between the U.S. and France, and the French always appreciate a little flattery, is it really necessary for Reuters to reference Elvis songs a total of SEVEN times? Yes, we get the joke, you’ve cleverly managed to weave song titles into your article, but I think one or two would’ve done it just fine.

Unfortunately, the remark didn’t appear to diminish France’s opposition to Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO hopes, as the results of the recent NATO conference show.

Moreover, I’m a little upset that President Bush didn’t use this tactic with former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, who, being a huge Elvis fan himself, might have appreciated the compliment a little more.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Marriage of Convenience

Russia is in the midst of talks with NATO officials about the the possibility of allowing goods destined for NATO's mission in Afghanistan to be transported through Russia. Currently the majority of supplies for NATO's operations in Afghanistan are shipped through Pakistan, posing problems for even the most deft of logistical planners and threating and threatening the ability of NATO forces to conduct operations.

This is a purely pragmatic move by the Russians rather than a thaw in relations toward the West. Russia's is not only concerned with the growth of Islamic fundamentalism along its borders but also within them, such as Chechnya and Dagestan.

NATO and Russian officials are currently working out the nuts and bolts of the agreement. It remains to be seen of negotiations will be derailed by Russian "bait and switch" or "fluster and fracas" negotiation tactics.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

re: hezbollah's rockets

The post about Hezbollah's new rockets is interesting on a number of levels.

For one, Hezbollah could be gearing up for it's expected reprisal following the February 2008 assassination of Mughniyeh in Syria. Iran's Revolutionary Guard must of course be delighted to help.

For another, this could relate to the dispute over Lebanon's future president. The Hezbollah-led opposition has been unable to reach an agreement with the pro-West coalition, and the country hasn't had a president since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down in 2007. In the Lebanese power-struggle, longer-range rockets could be a beneficial display of testicular fortitude for Hezbollah.

Two caveats though. First, this doesn't necessarily spell "happy days are here again" for Hezbollah. If they start launching rockets beyond settlements and into crowded civilian or military areas, Israel will have the justification and motivation to move in with more than a few half-assed retaliatory air strikes.

The summer 2006 offensive was a failure, no doubt, but as an Israeli government report released earlier this year made clear, the IDF has been restructuring itself to do better next time: more preparation, less reliance on air power, more infantry and more on-the-ground operations targeting rocket sites. If Hezbollah starts another offensive this summer, IDF may not be 100% prepared, but they're likely to put up a hell of a better fight than last time. Then again, that could depend on where Hezbollah launches the rockets. Sending Israeli troops into the mountains is one thing - sending them into the streets of Beirut is another.

Secondly, this is Israeli intelligence speaking: the same community asserting that Iran will have a nuclear weapon capable of reaching Israel within a few years, while claiming that Israel has no nukes at all. Then again, if we're talking about Hezbollah and rockets, why not be paranoid? Its not paranoia if you're Israeli.

Bad news for Israel

The AP is reporting that Hezbollah has acquired new rockets from Iran which can reach most of Israel. These new rockets have a range of 185 miles, which means Hezbollah can now reach the center of Israel, and may even be able to hit Dimona, site of Israel’s nuclear reactor.
This represents a drastic increase in range from that seen in the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. During that conflict, the longest-range rockets that were fired reached only 45 miles into Israel. Israeli officials have also predicted that Hezbollah now has more than double the number of rockets that the group had before the conflict.
This further underlines the lack of success Israel achieved in the month long war. If Hezbollah has been able to drastically increase its number of rockets, and the rockets have a much greater range than before, did the Israelis achieve anything during the war in Lebanon? This new development puts Israel at greater risk, but with the past failure, it is unclear if there is anything the country can do about it.


"THE WORLD'S LARGEST MACHINE GUN SHOOT" is held semi-annually in Kentucky.

The next shoot is April 11-13th at the Knob Creek Gun Range.




Coming to the The Knob Creek Gun Range

April 11th, 12th, and 13th.




Coming to the The Knob Creek Gun Range

April 11th, 12th, and 13th.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Al-Qaeda in Yemen attacks embassy

Last week, the US embassy in Sanaa Yemen was attacked. An alleged al-Qaeda cell called Yemen Soldiers Brigade has claimed responsibility. In a statement posted on Islamist websites, they said that they had launched five Hawn missiles against the US embassy. Last Tuesday however, one missile hit a girls' school located next to the embassy and at least one student and one soldier were killed. Another 15 students and four policemen were injured.

Welcome to Zimbabwe

As reported under this same title in the Independent, British pilot Brent Smyth, 31, was arrested for flying Morgan Tsvangirai the Zimbabwean opposition leader around on the campaign trail. Despite the company that employs him ATS stating that he indeed had all the paperwork in order, he was detained at Charles Prince airport.

Amidst claims that opposition members are regularly tortured in inside Harare central police station, Mr. Smith awaits release. The British embassy and the South African department of foreign affairs are trying to secure it, but it seems unlikely prior to the election.

This of course is one of many flagrant election violations that Robert Mugabe has inflicted on Zimbabwe over the years. He clearly has lost all sanity and respect for human rights and equality.

Another Air Force Accident

Speaking of institutions and accidents, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon accidentally shipped four electrical fuses meant for ICBMs to Taiwan in 2006 instead of the helicopter batteries that they ordered. This is viewed by Washington officials as disturbing for several different reasons. First, the fuses are not really viewed as nuclear material, but they are a component part used for a Minutemen strategic nuclear missile. The Taiwanese did notify the US of the mistake but it is not clear when. An investigation of the site where the delivery was stored indicates that the they had not been "tampered with." Second, the US does not want to ruffle China's feathers. The US's shipment of arms to Taiwan is a sensitive subject because the Chinese resent this support.

Although the shipment to Taiwain does represent a mistake on part of the US government--never a good thing-- there is not much reason to worry. A defense department official noted that the technology is "quite dated" from the 1960's. Also, China--though reminded of our support to Taiwan--will ultimately recognize this as a mistake. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Taliban Heads NATO Oil Tankers Off at the (Khyber) Pass

According to reports, between 25-40 oil tankers carrying fuel from Pakistan to NATO forces in Afghanistan were destroyed March 23, after an explosion took out the trucks in a parking lot near the Khyber Pass connecting Pakistan to the eastern portion of Afghanistan. No group has taken credit yet, but oil tankers are a target for Taliban forces active in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, and a Pakistani official recently said this March that "Up to three oil tankers were either destroyed or damaged every month in similar attacks over the past twelve months". Another tanker was destroyed in the same area March 18 when a roadside bomb exploded.

This is another great way for Taliban forces to hamper NATO ISAF efforts in Afghanistan, both those assigned to reconstruction and combating militants in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Whether the attack was carefully planned or whether it was a target of opportunity - the explosions took place in a parking lot by the border, and news reports aren't too clear on the security and protection available at the time - it offers another example of why a resurgent Taliban in Pakistan is dangerous for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Lots of food, fuel and other supplies for NATO have to be transported through the Khyber Pass, which leaves them open to easy attack. Taliban forces are active at both ends of the pass, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and love to take pot shots at passing trucks with rocket propelled grenades, rifles and grenades.

Still, this doesn't mean that the trucks are left unprotected. The U.S. military has often described the Khyber as a "critical crossing place", and both NATO and Pakistani forces attempts to step up security in the region have had some success.

The point remains that success in Afghanistan depends heavily on getting supplies into Afghanistan through Pakistan. NATO is stretched dangerously thin as it is, and there is a continual shortage of member countries willing and able to commit troops for more than training and reconstruction operations. Pakistan's military has a hard enough time justifying actual troop deployments to the heavily tribal-controlled areas on its border with Afghanistan. Hence, if Taliban militants really want to make life hard for NATO, they can step up attacks (or even attempted attacks), forcing either NATO or Pakistan's military to commit troops to security.

If anyone could find some real statistics for just how much food, fuel and whatnot moves into Afghanistan through Pakistan via ground transport, that'd be awesome.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Peace in the Future for China and Taiwan?

In Saturday's elections, Taiwan decided that they were going to try a different strategy in their relationship with China. Instead of demanding to be completely free from China, the people of Taiwan elected a President who promised closer economic ties between his state and China. This is a landmark election for Taiwan, because Taiwan has never elected a President who ran on that particular platform. With the economic growth that has been seen in China over the last few years, Taiwan wants to see the prosperity it enjoyed in the 1990's by possibly hopping on to the Chinese economic train.

The new President, Ma Ying-jeou, is not in favor of reuniting with China, but he does know that Taiwan does need a closer relationship with the mainland. He has also condemned past aggression that China has shown to its provinces, including the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989. Right now, the first step for Mr. Ma is to increase the economic ties with China, and then he will see from there what steps to take. He wants regularly scheduled flights from Taiwan to Beijing and Shanghai, as well as lifted restrictions on Taiwan companies to invest on the mainland. It does not mean that peace is imminent, but it may be a step in that direction.

France to Reduce Nuclear Arsenal

President Sarkozy of France has announced that France will reduce it nuclear arsenal by 1/3, leaving the country with less than 300 nuclear missiles. However, Sarkozy emphasized that the France will remain committed to its nuclear forces.

Sarkozy attributed the need to maintain French nuclear capabilities as an insurance policy as against emerging threats from Asia and the Middle East. Iran was explicitly mentioned in this statement.

Sarkozy also metioned that any threat to the vital interests of France would be met with what he called a "severe riposte," preferring to remain ambiguous as to what the nature of such a riposte would be.

While described as part of an ongoing revamp of French defense policy and a positive step forward for nuclear nonproliferation, this move is more likely the result of financial difficulties for the French government.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Syllabus and Lectures Available


Note that the course syllabus is once again available on the sidebar, as are all course lectures.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Biggest Drill Ever

According to this article, Israel is holding its largest emergency drill ever, starting on April 6 and lasting for five days. The drill has been developed from lessons learned in the Second Lebanon War, and is meant to prepare Israelis for a possible war with Syria or Iran.
Emergency services will prepare for nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks, and will also participate in a mock mass evacuation from an affected site.
Israeli government officials have been quick to note that the drill does not indicate that a war is imminent. Instead, they claim that are just working to increase their preparedness, and add that they plan an annual exercise from now on.
Hopefully the drill is a little more helpful than the fire drills we used to do in elementary school, which consisted of a quick march outside where we then planted ourselves five feet from the building (apparently well outside the danger zone)…

Friday, March 14, 2008

Das Vadanaya Comrade...

It appears the once cozy relationship between India and Russia may be on the proverbial rocks. The rising cost demanded by Russia for therefit of the Admiral Gorschkov, an aircraft carrier purchased by India, disagreements involving a submarine deal, and a host of other issues indicate that oddest of Cold War odd couples may be heading for splitsville.
Although the vast majority of Indian military hardware is supplied by Russia, India is importing military hardware from the United States and India in increasing numbers. However, due to the current reliance of India on Russia for parts, etc., the divorce will not be final for several more years.
This development is indicative of the industrial atrophy that has gripped Russia during the so-called boom years of Putin's administrtion. Russian industrial capacity has declined over the years, spelling big trouble for its venerable weapons export business. This has resulted in the production of inferior military hardware, exemplified by the cancellation of the Algerians of MiG fighter planes from Russia and this most recent episode with India.

Monday, March 10, 2008

He didn't forget Poland

Reuters is reporting on the recent meeting between President Bush and Polish Prime Minister Tusk, which represents another important step in the creation of a U.S. missile defense system. While the Poles appear to be more than willing to base the U.S. system in their country, it looks likes they're going to want some serious incentives in return. Specifically, they are calling on the U.S. to help modernize their military forces. President Bush has acknowledged that the Polish military needs help, and promised that before he leaves office, U.S. experts will be on the job. It's unclear what specifically, if anything, has actually been agreed to, because so far the President has said only that Polish needs will be assessed. Call me crazy, but it seems like the Poles should have a pretty good idea what their needs are, and will expect a lot more than verification of the same. I'd expect to hear an announcement soon outlining a huge U.S. military package to the country if the missile deal is to be kept alive.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Big Victory for Waterboarding Enthusiasts

So by vetoing a bill that would ban waterboarding, President Bush has officially recognized that CIA interrogators do not have to abide by the same rules that military interrogators must follow. Even though the CIA has not approved waterboarding for use, the option to use in the future is still in play after this veto. It also allows for other more extreme interrogation measures such as prolonged sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, and exposure to extreme cold.

President Bush explained his actions by saying "The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror, so today I vetoed it. The bill provides guidelines for intelligence activities for the year and includes the interrogation requirement. It passed the House in December and the Senate last month. This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe."

Many critics question this decision, including some congressmen and congresswomen who are going to try and override his decision, but this will be difficult. These critics do criticize the decision though not only because of the human rights issues involved but also the effectiveness issues. Many believe that these enhanced interrogation techniques actually provide less, or even worse, false information. Either way, these tactics are still able to be used after the veto, and there is not a lot that can be done to change it.

Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting (online)

Not sure if anyone read this story already, but it’s a pretty interesting read. It lays out how some Chinese hackers claim to have penetrated the Pentagon’s database. The thing that could really ruffle some feathers, though, is the hackers’ claim that the Chinese government pays them for their actions. Now, these stories are picked up pretty regularly, and if they’re the least bit true, the U.S. government has a serious problem on its hands. If this is happening so often, the government has to have some sort of proof, so why don’t we ever any sort of U.S. response? If the government thinks it can handle this sort of intrusion non-publicly, I’d have to point out the continued cyber attacks indicate it’s not working. It’s time for the U.S. to stop dropping the ball, and seriously respond to this threat.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


In addition to producing evidence that could implicate Venezuela and the FARC in the acquisition of a dirty bomb, the recent raid by Colombia into Ecuador also resulted in the death of Raul Reyes.

Why is this important? Reyes is a member of the FARC's ruling Secretariat. Reyes death marks the first time that a member of this body has been killed in 4 decades of fighting. Reyes was also the public face of the FARC, responsible for forging contacts with like minded organizations in foreign countries.

Although the war between the war between the Colombian government and the FARC is long from over, the death of Reyes and other recent success by the Colombian government indicate that the end may be in sight.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Still not making headlines

Much like this story didn't break in the UK, it still really hasn't attracted attention here either. The UK's Prince Harry is indeed deployed in Afghanistan and has been there 10 weeks. The British media had apparently cut a deal with British officials to keep the information a secret in exchange for details.

It wasnt until Drudge Report drug it out of an obscure Australian newspaper that it ever saw the light of day. The lack of coverage is interesting however, given how the tabloids seem to always follow this stuff so adroitly. Perhaps nobody really cares that much.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

British Buy New Aircraft Carriers

Is that true about the heat produced from the joint strike fighter takeoff?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

Surgeon General's Warning for Pakistan...

Today the NY Times reported that a top Pakistani general was killed by a suicide bomber on Monday in Rawalpindi. The bomber was linked to militants in the tribal areas. Sharif has called for the resignation of Musharraf as well as negotiations with the militants, citing the negotiations between the IRA and British government as a template for ending the ongoing conflict between the Pakistani government and militants in the tribal areas.

While the assassination of top officials has been par for the course as of late in Pakistan, the clamoring for the resignation of Musharraf make these developments particularly disturbing. Now to be fair, Musharraf has not been an ideal democrat and has perpetrated inhuman acts such as the sacking of supreme court officials (oh the horror...). But in these turbulent times in Pakistan, it is important to remember his potential as a transitional figure and his cooperation with the US still make him an asset for US policy makers. Musharraf's successor may not be as cooperative.

Musharraf's administration/dictatorship has also, on the whole, been good for the country. Musharraf has presided over a booming Pakistani economy and has improved Indo-Pakistani relations. This is far more than Sharif any of the other clowns likely to replace Musharraf will accomplish.

Negotiations are likely to prove fruitless, given the fact that Islamic militants have intangible goals, such as the recreation of the Caliphate of Islam's golden age and seek a complete societal revolution.

While the elections in Pakistan may be hailed as the beginning of the new era for Pakistan, they will most likely pave the way for the return of the incompetence of the administrations that preceded Musharraf.
Pakistan is starting to look like the Middle East, a place where when things can't get any worse, they do.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hydrazine for the Masses

So since the 1987 study cited by the previous post says that hydrazine is used in everything from cigarettes to airbags, it must be safe enough to hand out to children. I would love to see the next flavor of Kool-Aid be hydrazine. I bet it is delicious. Seeing as there was enough hydrazine on board to fill 2 football fields, I think that exposure may be a little higher than that found in cigarettes. This is what a study done by the EPA and revised in 2000 has to say about hydrazine exposure:

Symptoms of acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of hydrazine may include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, headache, nausea, pulmonary edema, seizures, coma in humans. Acute exposure can also damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. The liquid is corrosive and may produce dermatitis from skin contact in humans and animals. Effects to the lungs, liver, spleen, and thyroid have been reported in animals chronically exposed to hydrazine via inhalation. Increased incidences of lung, nasal cavity, and liver tumors have been observed in rodents exposed to hydrazine.

This does not sound like your family safe chemical that one would want in a heavily populated area like say, a massive Chinese city. The short-term exposure levels are enough to put a human being in a coma. Sounds pretty serious to me. And last time I checked, China does not have the health care capabilities to deal with chemical exposure of this magnitude.

The satellite was the size of a bus. Imagine the damage this would cause if it were to strike a building. There would be little chance of survival, and those who did survive would be exposed to the massive amounts of hydrazine. The US was unsure of what form the hydrazine would be in when it reentered Earth's atmosphere as well. If it was in a gaseous state, the damage could be much more extreme. Either way, it is possible for thousands of people to die if a satellite the size of a bus, carrying a toxic material, were to crash into a large building filled with people. The fact that hydrazine is a carcinogen does not help either. Those who are exposed to it have the potential to develop tumors also.

I admit that the chance it would hit China and even a population center in China is very low, but it is still possible. I would hope that you would not be "laughing aloud" if the satellite were to hit Beijing or Shanghai. Just the same, many people thought it was highly unlikely that 2 planes would be flown into the same building within minutes and another into the Pentagon, and I know there were not many people "laughing aloud." It was also a great shock when the levies broke in New Orleans and a city was devastated after Hurricane Katrina, and I would venture to say that not many people were "laughing aloud." I do believe that the US did shoot this down mainly to show that they had the capability to, and I also know that they did not want any country to have their hands on the technology that was displayed in this satellite, but the US also does not want to tarnish an already questionable international image by being responsible for a satellite landing in a Chinese city and killing and injuring thousands of civilians.

I recognize that the debris caused by the destruction of the satellite is not an issue. I thought that I had made that clear in my previous post with the joke that China was worried only because it may obstruct certain views of their current satellites. I would expect that the death toll from hydrazine exposure would increase to a much higher number than 1 if the satellite were to hit a population center. So next time some unbelievable tragedy rocks the international scene, I hope that at some point in your life, you did no "laugh aloud" at the previous thought of such an event taking place.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Houston: There is no problem

I contend with the previous post on three points: The threat posed by hydrazine was negligible, the U.S. shot NRO 193 for national security reasons not altruistic concerns over toxicity, and the debris emitted from recent explosion are not a significant threat to orbiting satellites.

First of all the idea that thesatellite could kill thousands of people, much less thousands of Chinese, is hyperbole. The odds of it landing in China are slim, and hitting population center slimmer yet. Further, all of the hydrazine would need to survive reentry, and then be distributed in aerosol through an enclosed area. Think falling into Rupp Arena this weekend during the Arkansas game. Again, the chance of this happening is so remote that it makes me want to laugh aloud. On a side note only one person has died from hydrazine, ever.

More info on hydrazine here: ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CRITERIA 68 HYRDRAZINE (Seriously check it out! Hydrazine is used to deploy airbags AND its in cigarettes!)

Second, the U.S. did not hit the satellite due to the hazardous fuel it contained but due to the technology this asset possessed. The satellite was launched in 2006 and, logic dictates, that satellite 193 was probably one of the most advanced reconnaissance systems we have launched. An uncontrolled re-entry by a satellite is difficult to predict - there are no guarantees that it would have been completely destroyed during re-entry or that it would land in the ocean. The possibility of a rival military getting a look at some of our treasured technology certainly ruffled a few feathers at the Pentagon and, to soothe their collective nerves, our military officials decided to blow it to tiny bits. This had the added benefit of showing China, Russia, Iran, and everyone else that “Yes, we are that damn good.”

Lastly the threat posed by debris from the missile intercept of satellite 193 is also exaggerated. The U.S. missile strike, as opposed to the Chinese ASAT exercise, occurred just prior to reentry. This means that most of the debris ejected from the strike will continue to de-orbit and burn up. No harm no foul. In contrast, the Chinese chose to hit their satellite, Fengyun 1C, at a comparatively higher orbit. This is much, much worse because it means that the debris will be orbiting in LEO for an inordinate amount of time. NASA has playfully described the Chinese test as “the worst satellite breakup in history”.

You can read more about orbital debris in NASA’s stellar (pardon the pun) Orbital Debris Quarterly: Now on Volume 12!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Shut Up China!

So China is worried about the effects of the spy satellite that has been shot down. They are whining about the effects of the debris that will be left orbiting the earth. Well maybe the US should have left the satellite in orbit to reenter whenever and wherever it ended up. Maybe it would have landed in a Chinese city and the chemicals would have harmed thousands of Chinese citizens. Does that sound better to the Chinese than some debris floating on orbit around the Earth? It would be a phenomenon that a US made product would actually be harming Chinese civilians, but the same cannot be said on the other side. China has sent the US such great presents as pet food that kills pets, toothpaste that is toxic, toys with enough lead paint to cause permanent brain damage to children, and tires that have treads that randomly separate because of the poor design. And the Chinese are worried about debris in space. HA! The whole purpose, according to Pentagon spokesperson Brian Whitman, was about "reducing the risk to human life, on Earth." Not to mention the fact the the US proved that they were capable of shooting down a satellite. China is just worried that the debris may actually affect the view that their satellites have. SO shut up China and deal with it or you may find that a few of your satellites have come up missing.

Hey y'all, watch this!

Gotcha! A heartfelt thanks to the U.S. Navy for providing us with an ultra-nifty display of technological prowess.

Attention World: All your satellites are belong to us (U.S.?).
Update: China calls for data on shot-down US satellite - China believes that low orbiting debris from a U.S. asset are, somehow, a greater threat to space security than high orbiting satellites of Chinese Extraction. Go figure.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

two players with one COIN?

Certain sections of the counterinsurgency manual hark back to our earlier discussion of Private Military Firms. For example, if COIN is a large part of ongoing U.S. operations in Iraq, and if effective COIN requires a highly sophisticated, coordinated strategy, then what is the relationship between PMF's active in Iraq - particularly Blackwater - and U.S. COIN? Do PMF's like Blackwater only constitute a liability?

In general, PMF's in Iraq are on escort or guard duty. The most troublesome examples involve Blackwater, whose employees have in at least two occasions been engaged in urban firefights that strongly anger the local populations. These in turn provide serious fodder for insurgents and can damage any attempts to legitimize the occupying force or existing Iraqi government.

Look at the assault on Fallujah, prompted by the killing and post-mortem desecration of several PMF employees. Given the crowd's initial response - to mutilate and burn the remains - the event seemed to be a serious victory for the insurgents, demonstrating the authority of their violence and the weakness and corruption of the Western occupiers and the Iraqi government they support.

So what do ya'll think? Can PMF's be effectively incorporated into COIN in Iraq, or if they cannot, can their damaging effects at least be minimized, or are they in fact largely irrelevant?

Imad Mugniyah Assasinated

Imad Mugniyah, the leader of Hezbollah’s military wing and a senior officer in Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, was killed in a car bombing in Damascus, Syria on Feb 12. Despite its potential ramifications, mainstream news didn’t seem to cover this potentially dangerous situation.

Cries of protest came from Hezbollah supporters, while the US and Israel expressed happiness over the alleged kidnapper and terrorist’s death.

The controversy however seems to be not between the traditional east-west rivalries that plague Israeli-Hezbollah relations, but that the Syrian government may have been complicit in the assassination.

If this was indeed the case, then it seems as if the traditional support that Syria has reportedly given Hezbollah may indeed be waning.

Or perhaps, the price on Mugniyah's head was simply too high for Syrian government officials to pass up.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Sky is Falling

(Public Enemy No. 1)
Several weeks ago we were treated to news that a derelict U.S. spy satellite, floundering aimlessly in a decaying orbit, would soon burn up in an impressive but ultimately harmless fireball as it re-entered our atmosphere. Now, one Iranian missle launch later, the U.S. has decided that this satellite is a threat and should be terminated with extreme prejudice.

I am not an engineer, nor do I comprehend the complexities and toxicity of hypergolic fuels such as hydrozine (ahem.), however, this turn of events is highly suspect. I find it more than a mere coincidence that NASA Administrator Micheal Griffin has gone from indifferent to alarmed, and enlisted the help of the military to remove this toxic fireball forged in the fires of Mt. Doom.

Iran already has one satellite in orbit, and plans more following its successful test in February 2008, but it appears President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclamation that "We need to have an active and influential presence in space" will be contested by the Pentagon and Bush Administration. Iran may be capable of placing satellites in orbit, but the U.S. military will be damned if it will allow such assets to remain there. Happy hunting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

the Talibanites who say "Ni"

Interesting variance in the reports of kidnapped Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin.

"According to Ahmad Zaidan, the head of the Pakistani bureau of Arab TV network Al-Jazeera, local Taliban commander Beitullah Mahsoud has claimed responsibility for Azizuddin's kidnapping and has made an offer to the Pakistan government to exchange the diplomat for Dadullah"

2) "
Taliban purported spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed Tuesday denied responsibility for the reported missing of Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Aziz-ud-Din."

Two other interesting things to note. At this point, the Pakistani government has denied receiving any official claims of responsibility from the Taliban. Additionally, Beitullah Mahsoud is the tribal leader whom the Pakistani government has charged with being behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last December.

What this seems to indicate is (1) that no one is really sure what's going on yet, (2) that the Taliban is not as unified an entity as we might think, (3) the kidnapping of the ambassador is probably not directly linked to the disappearance of the two nuclear officials.

If Mahsoud is really behind - or at least a key player in - both this kidnapping and the assassination of Bhutto, his objective seems to be to disrupt the Pakistani government and not to obtain access to nuclear materials.

The interesting question here is whether there is still a centralized Taliban leadership, or whether there is now a serious internal struggle for leadership and direction within the Talibanis. If things go in the direction of
Beitullah Mahsoud - kidnappings and assassinations - then there is probably good reason to expect some serious destabilization and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Woohoo.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The September Six

According to a recent story in the BBC, six men involved with the September 11 attacks will finally be sent to trial.

The court they are destined for however is not a US civilian court, but instead a military tribunal.

Although Brig General Thomas Hartmann, a head legal adviser at the Pentagon says that there will be no hidden trials and that "It's our obligation to move the process forward, to give these people their rights", there is still great doubt as to the transparency of the matter.

The law is being challenged by two of the prisoners that contend exactly that: they will be deprived of the right to due process. A representative of Mohammed al-Qahtani corroborated this worry by stating that they would create "show trials".

To complicate matters, the CIA may bring in testimony that was corrupted by newly revealed illegal torture methods like waterboarding. Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York executive director Vincent Warren said: "These trials will be using evidence obtained by torture as a means to convict someone and execute them and that is absolutely abhorrent to what we believe in here in America.''

Since Khalid and company would likely be easily convicted in a standard civilian criminal court the question remains why the US would need to conduct these trials based on coerced testimony under extreme duress and in special military tribunals. That is, unless the US has something more to hide.

Friday, February 08, 2008


From our recent reading "Knowing the Enemy" from the December 2006 edition of the New Yorker it seems that disaggregation could be a word many of us will have to get used to.

Just as containment was the defining strategy of the Cold War, it appears disaggregation could be the defining strategy of and equally long "worldwide counterinsurgency" as defined by David Kilcullen.

In disaggregation, Kilcullen emphasizes that strategy should be specific to very local concerns. For instance, forces should be concentrated at the Pakistani border to keep insurgent ideology from bleeding into cross border regions or population centers.

Although the US is very good at "big, short wars" it is miserable at local counterinsurgencies because its focus is global and national. If the US wants to win this "long war" on terror it must take cues from past successes in Indonesia and Malaysia. Moreover, it must combine economic intervention with cultural knowledge to stem the spread of dangerous ideology much like it did quite accidentally in the humanitarian interventions in the Indonesian state of Aceh post tsunami.

If this new strategy does appear to be as successful as its potential demonstrates then disaggregation may be the next containment. Is it too much to ask then, if Kilcullen is the next Kennan?

In photo above:

First Lt. Nicholas Ziemba (far left), Capt. Blake Keil (left), Capt. Dustin Walker (center), and Maj. Matt Zimmerman (right rear), all of the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), out of Fort Drum, N.Y., spoke with Dr. David Kilcullen (right front), counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, at the Mahmudiyah Iraqi Army Compound June 3.