Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Humanitarian Military: An Oxymoron?

It almost seems like an oxymoron- a military that delivers humanitarian aid? What sort of world do we live in? However, one of the things many militaries do, around the world and across state types is send in the military as a response to a humanitarian disaster.

This is exactly what the US, Canada, and India are currently doing to respond to the earthquake in Nepal. A US military plane departed for Nepal with 70 people and 45 tons of cargo on board on April 26th. All of these personnel were not military members, some were from a USAID disaster assistance response team. Canada's military Disaster Assistance Response Team was sent to help.  India sent 13 planes filled with supplies and disaster management specialists. Specifically, the Inidian planes carried 3 army field hospitals. Even the Nepalese troops are involved in search and rescue, with Nepal claiming that 9 out of 10 soldiers were focusing on the earthquake. A further collection of who is sending what is available here. In fact, reading through that you are struck my the list- it is almost entirely military personnel and equipment flowing in- even most of the doctors are military doctors.
The Nepalese government's Chief Secretary, Lila Mani Poudyal, said his country was short of medical teams and relief materials, including "tents, dry goods, blankets, mattresses and 80 different medicines".(BBC)
So why is this? As The New York Times reports- Nepal had only one big helicopter in a "poor, near-roadless, mountainous land." Is it because the military is the arm of the government who is most able to respond quickly? Are they the only ones who are capable of responding to such a disaster? While some of the equipment is there to evacuate their respective countries citizens, most is meant to stay and help the Nepalese.

The answer in part is "yes" to all of the above questions. The military, in most countries, is the most able to respond quickly. They also have some of the best trained in field medicine and disaster response. Some even argue that there is an expectation that military units will assist civilian population in immediate aftermath. In some part this assistance is purely logistical. The military has the training and supplies to provide this support. And the civilian government often wants the military's experience in maintaining communication and authority in difficult situations.

Also, the governments who send military aid face an increase in political capital internationally. If a country doesn't launch a response that the world sees as related to its status in the world- it will face criticism for a lack of response. Further the UN even has a Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord) which facilitates dialogue and interaction between civilian and military actors that helps to facilitate coordination and humanitarian response.

There can be negatives to large amounts of aid pouring into a country (see Haiti post earthquake), thus the military humanitarian aid has the potential to be a source of quality, quick, responsive aid to the needs of the population. Rather than an oxymoron, people should be asking why don't they do more?

Want to donate to Nepal? Look here for reputable organizations.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Peak oil or not, the U.S. is well positioned for the future

Peak oil refers to the point in time when the production of petroleum reaches a maximum rate of extraction, after which production is expected to terminally decline. The rise of American shale production in recent years has been a major factor contributing to the decline in oil prices, and has led some analysts to predict we have finally reached peak oil. This projection is alarming, as the period following the peak is often associated with insufficient supply and rapidly escalating oil prices. However, I do not see the current situation as concerning to energy security over the short or medium-term in the United States. Production of oil is expected to increase over both time horizons. Shale oil viability in the United States has fundamentally altered the global oil market, flooding it with new supply and, thus, setting the equilibrium price at a considerably lower level. Additionally, the rise of shale has decreased OPEC’s share of global oil production, diminishing its ability to manipulate prices and allowing American shale to balance the market.

Non-OPEC Supply
Non-OPEC countries supplied 56.45 million barrels per day (mb/d) of petroleum in 2014, a 2.1 mb/d increase from the previous year. Production is projected to increase by 0.8 mb/d in 2015 and 2016. Production growth is slowing in the U.S., Canada and Brazil, three major contributors to growth in recent years. However, the forecasted reduction in the rate of growth is attributed primarily to low projected oil prices rather than diminishing supply.  This leads us to the importance of shale in North America.

One characteristic that makes shale oil production unique is its highly responsive price elasticity relative to conventional crude. Short lead-time, payback time and rapid well depletion allow shale producers to respond faster and more effectively to changes in supply, reducing production when oil prices are too low for profitable extraction (most projects are profitable at $80/barrel) and increasing production when prices are attractive. Given the United States’ high level of oil consumption, this is a fortuitous development. As was witnessed in November 2014, when OPEC and other conventional sources of low-cost crude attempt to protect market share by pricing shale out of the market, American consumers benefit tremendously through reduced gas prices. Alternatively, any attempt to increase oil prices by reducing supply will be met with a quick shale production increase in the United States, creating domestic economic activity and stifling market manipulation. This new dynamic is allowing shale producers to take the, traditionally Saudi, role of market balancer.

OPEC Supply
OPEC members produced 36.49 mb/d of petroleum in 2014, unchanged from the previous year. Production growth took place in Iraq and Iran, but was nullified by declines in Libya, Angola, Algeria, and Kuwait. Production is expected to decline by 0.1 mb/d in 2015 and 0.4 mb/d in 2016. Over the two-year forecast, Iraq is expected to contribute the most to production growth within OPEC. However, Iraq’s growth is unlikely to outpace declines in production from other Persian Gulf countries. Additionally, the threat of the Islamic State (IS) make Iraq’s production level difficult to project.

OPEC producers experienced high levels of oil supply disruptions in 2014, averaging 2.4 mb/d and increasing by 0.6 mb/d compared to the previous year. Almost all growth in disruptions came from Libya and Iraq. If a level of stability can be restored in the Persian Gulf and North Africa, there is significant potential for production growth through the reduction of supply disruptions.

Global Demand
Consumption of oil increased by 0.9 mb/d for an average of 92.1 mb/d in 2014. Similar levels of growth are projected for 2015 and 2016. The center of gravity for oil consumption is shifting to the Far East, away from OECD members. China is leading the way, accounting for 0.4 mb/d of growth in 2014, nearly half of all global consumption growth. China’s consumption growth is projected to drop slightly to 0.3 mb/d in 2015 and 2016 due to recent declines in key manufacturing indicators.

Despite sluggish demand in OECD countries and significant declines in projected consumption in Russia due to its recent economic downturn, total world consumption is expected to increase by 1.0 mb/d in 2015 and 2016 on the strength of demand from non-OECD members and the United States, which is projected to experience consumption growth of 0.3 mb/d in 2015. Rising oil demand puts additional pressure on supply, particularly if a peak oil situation arises. However, the shale revolution is likely to keep prices suppressed to a reasonable, if not attractive, level in the short and medium-term.

I do not see peak oil as a major concern to the United States' energy security or economic health. Most experts do not project a downturn in total oil production in the short to medium-term; long-term projections are inconsistent, reflecting the difficulty of projecting far into the future with any degree of accuracy. However, we can be certain that shale oil has placed the United States in a much better energy security position, both prior to and after peak oil. The availability of domestic shale limits the effectiveness of OPEC’s supply suppression. Additionally, when prices rise to the (still reasonable) point that shale operations are profitable, the production will be domestic. This keeps capital in the U.S., supports jobs, and can have a multiplier effect that is beneficial to the greater economy.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Oligarch Politics – Ukrainian Style

Almost a month ago, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was involved in a standoff with the oligarch billionaire Igor Kolomoisky.  Now it appears that President Poroshenko will have to address yet another challenge from one of Kolomoisky’s peers.  Rinat Akhmetov, a steel and electricity magnate worth $6.7 billion, has been accused by a member of the Ukrainian Rada of orchestrating miners’ protests in Kiev last week.  The government attempts to gain control over these oligarchic fiefdoms are likely the result of pressure on the Poroshenko administration to combat endemic corruption in the Ukrainian economy and state.

In the last conflict, Igor Kolomoisky ended up being fired (or “asked to resign) by President Poroshenko from his post as governor of Dnipropetrovsk oblast.  This followed a conflict between the state and Kolomoisky over control of Ukrnafta, Ukraine’s top oil production company.  Ukrnafta was majority owned by the government, however Kolomoisky regularly denied shareholder meetings and monopolized control over the cash flow of the company.  This influence is despite Kolomoisky only owning a minority stake in the company.

President Poroshenko (left) with Igor Kolomoisky - Reuters - Source

Kolomoisky threw his support behind the interim government during the months after the Maidan revolution, eventually winning the regional governor position.  Kolomoisky’s friction with the Poroshenko administration emerged from a curse-ridden rant at a journalist following a personal intervention to keep one of his loyalists in a management position at a state energy transportation company.  Additionally, Kolomoisky utilized one of his “volunteer battalions” (the same battalions that were fighting in the east against the Donbas separatists) to fortify the Kiev headquarters of Ukrnafta with assault rifles and full military kit.  Poroshenko’s original legislation, which would strip Kolomoisky of his control of Ukrnafta, led Kolomoisky to negotiate and accept what was likely a golden parachute, which would allow him to keep his fortune as long as he resigned from his post as governor.

Akhmetov is yet another oligarch who threw his weight behind the pro-western reformer government early on.  A re-occurring trend is the oligarch’s capacity to shift their allegiances (along with their manpower and assets) as the political winds change.  For example, Akhmetov’s main consolidation of Ukraine’s mining and steel assets took place under former President Yanukovich’s auspices.  It’s likely that, as the Ukrainian government continues to undergo economic reforms, there will be more friction between the authorities and the oligarch classes.

Rinat Ahkmetov - Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images - Source

The Member of Parliament who released the internal documents linking Ahkmetov to the protests in Kiev is Mustafa Nayem.  He used to be an investigative journalist until joining the Rada as part of the Petro Poroshenko bloc.  Prior to the revolution, he was a dedicated free speech and economic justice activist who was regularly detained by the Yanukovich administration.  President Poroshenko will need to maintain a balancing act to maintain order and continue his path towards a more solvent and economically free Ukraine.  He will need to maintain the allegiance of individuals such as Mustafa Nayem by making sure his fledgling government highlights transparency, rule of law, and journalistic freedom as primary pillars of its anti-corruption reform efforts.  However, this presents a challenge because Poroshenko’s administration relies on several oligarchs for material and human support, both of which are vitally important in this financially difficult wartime.  Future conflicts with the oligarchs will need to be well-planned and executed in order to avoid an implosion of the country.

The Utility of Printing Biblical Plagues: 3-D Printing and Network-centric Warfare

Two weeks ago, the Office of Naval Research tested an iteration of the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) system. Launched out of a device that looks similar to a Multiple Rocket Launching System (MRLS), these little Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) were then able to act together to carry out their demonstrative mission. “Autonomous Swarming” is becoming a reality.

It would seem that the future of warfare has taken another great step, edging closer to the operational aspects of network centric warfare (NCW) that were conceptually distorted during the attempt to create the “Navy after Next”, and effectively aborted after the post-recession budget cuts and sequester.

Ships like the DD(x), CG(x) and LCS combined what was then the contemporary vision of NCW Navy platforms with the information technology (IT) revolution that was coming to dominate war-fighting. The prohibitive costs of the platforms and development difficulties led to cancellations and project modifications (see the LCS) as well as attempts to integrate the concepts of the IT revolution into more familiar boats (such as the DDG 51), with an established industrial footprint and operational capacity, fostering the industrially sustaining nature of NCW.

The rapid development and feasibility of advanced 3-D printing technology may change this, providing the impetus for disruption that could open up the market more than the conceptual and technological limitations of 1990s and 2000s.  If size and number are to be the key components of the survivability of the networked system in NCW, then the reductions in cost and time (as seen here, with the latest Rutherford engine cutting rocket engine productions from a few months to 3 days) associated with this emergent revolution in 3-D manufacturing technology will push NCW towards theoretical purity, as long as software and hardware progress are in relative lockstep.

If the cost of platforms can be reduced, their effectiveness guaranteed and streamlined through single mission forms, and they can be linked via disruption resistant connections, then the speed that these nodes in the network can be replaced will determine the effectiveness of the network as a weapon. This is really the point of NCW, to sync and weaponize the entire operational and strategic structure, by providing instantaneous and unitary tactical ability. The nodes will simply be relegated to ammunition, and may even self-destruct as such.

While the application of this technology may be manifest in imagined futures, the disruptive or sustaining nature of 3-D printing technology to the defense manufacturing industry, especially when applied to the US Navy, will lie within the ability of the Navy to see 3-D printing’s true potential in radically transforming the service’s platforms and aiding in the practical shift to the NCW doctrine developed almost 20 years ago. Experimentation with the technology's ability to print parts is incredibly important and useful, buts as the frontier in materials for 3-D printing pushes outward, the Navy and the defense industry must start thinking big. It seems that they are, but time will tell how vested political interests in conjunction with operational and strategic Luddites will shape the Navy’s ability to fully articulate its vision of NCW.

In many ways, these advances in both autonomy and production could help structure an interesting counter to A2/AD. That may have to be the policy angle the Navy takes in pushes its R&D and Procurement budget in front of the right congressional and administration allies. It might also be a winning strategy for shepherding the defense industry in the direction that the Navy wants, promising long-term investments in countering specific strategic threats. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

NATO Cyber Defense

Locked Shields 2015 - Lawrence Campbell/NATO Channel TV - Source

This week, NATO will conduct a large-scale cyber defense drill using hundreds of computer scientists from over sixteen nations.  The exercise will be led by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Talinn, Estonia.  These NATO Centers of Excellence are nationally-funded, NATO accredited, specialized institutions designed improve capabilities and readiness in light of various threats, as well as to conduct research on areas of importance to the alliance. (Such as energy security, strategic communications, command and control, among others)

It’s especially noteworthy that Estonian authorities decided to take the initiative in 2008 and establish the Cooperative Cyber Defense Center.  In 2007, a massive cyber attack digitally crippled the Estonian parliament, newspapers, television broadcasters and even a segment of the banking infrastructure.  The large-scale attack utilized DDoS (distributed denial of service) tactics to bottleneck online public service portals as well as block citizen usage of vital social infrastructure such as emergency ambulance and fire. 

The attacks occurred during the same month in which the Tallinn city government was in the process of exhuming and identifying graves of WWII-era Red Army soldiers with the intention of moving them to another graveyard.  Russian authorities expressed indignant outrage regarding the transfer, thus many Estonian security officers and other observers believe that the Kremlin was behind the cyber attack.  The evidence largely backs this up, as the sheer scale of the operation as well as the coordinated, specific targets implies state involvement or consent.

However, the Estonian government has been very active in cultivating a robust public and private sector information technology industry.  Estonians lead the world in start-ups per capita.  Estonian technologists produced such gems as Kazaa and Skype.  Due to its hardy IT sector and a deluge of geek knowledge, the Estonian economy and infrastructure suffered relatively little long-term damage from the attack.  The 2007 attack on Estonia, as well as the coordinated cyber operations against Georgia during the 2008 conflict with Russia, triggered renewed attention to NATO member states’ digital vulnerabilities in today’s networked society.

In the NATO Wales summit declaration from September 2014, two sections extensively discuss methods to address cyber security.  It states, “A decision as to when a cyber attack would lead to the invocation of Article 5 would be taken by the North Atlantic Council on a case-by-case basis.”  This is a new development that is especially pertinent in light of the geographic realities of the NATO member states that could be considered to be in Russia’s periphery.  The ongoing evaluation of cyber aggression’s impact on traditional security themes such as deterrence and first strike capabilities will continue to develop into the foreseeable future.  How NATO addresses this new medium of conflict in light of a resurgent Russia remains to be seen.

McISIS: Brand Equity in the Jihad Market

In mid-June 2014, Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, fell into the hands of the Islamic State (IS) following a blitz offensive. With the decisive victory came credibility and prestige.  Since the fall of Mosul, 22 significant terror organizations have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State as of March 31, 2015. These terror organizations span a wide swath of territory across 14 countries in the Middle East, North Africa, West Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Much like a McDonald’s franchisee, these operations are looking to capitalize on the strong brand and/or successful business model of the “franchisor.”

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a Salafist jihadist group of 1,000-2,000 fighters based in the Sinai Peninsula, pledged allegiance to IS on November 10, 2014. Emerging after the Egyptian revolution in 2011, the group established itself as a formidable organization in its own right. A series of successful attacks, including the July 2014 attack in the Western desert that killed 21 Egyptian soldiers and the October 2014 attack that killed 31, led to a crackdown by the Egyptian military. Under new pressure, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis pledged obedience to IS with hope that the move would provide new money and new recruits in its battle against Cairo.

In the weeks before its pledge, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis adopted the tactic of beheading its captives, a “signature” of IS, but unusual for the Sinai-based organization. This was likely in order to draw favor from IS and potential funders who may want to see more similarity between the organizations before they parted with their money. However, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis focuses its operations on security personnel, and has been reluctant, barring a few exceptions, to shift focus onto civilians. Despite its pledge, this indicates a significant degree of autonomy from IS, which is infamous for its indiscriminate killing. In addition, some factions of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, particularly along the Nile River, have refused to join IS in favor of loyalty to al-Qaeda.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance has led to the adoption of several IS tactics, including the targeted killing of Christians. On April 7, a dozen Boko Haram militants disquised themselves as Christian preachers in order to gain entrance into a northern Nigerian community, eventually opening fire on the population and killing 24 people. Boko Haram has long targeted wives of Christians for forced conversion to Islam, but Christians are now being executed on the spot.

However, the recent pledge does not appear to have revitalized the crumbling West African group. Despite the high-quality video released on April 24, Boko Haram is losing ground. The video includes all the marks of official IS releases, indicating that Boko Haram’s propaganda operations may be under the control of IS. Although the video is of high-quality, it lacks the typical volume of mass execution footage in favor of little more than group shots of militants posing for pictures. This is further indication of the group’s rapid decline in recent months.

One of the key elements of a successful franchise is consistency of experience. McDonald’s in Spain is fairly similar to McDonald’s in the United States, and consumers tend to like it that way. This cannot be said for IS in Iraq and Egypt or Nigeria. Moreover, resource sharing appears to be minimal, limiting the benefits of allegiance, largely, to increased brand equity. But just as failing retail franchises damage the overall company, IS risks losing its brand equity if its marquee franchises struggle to build momentum. Both Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and Boko Haram turned to IS in the midst of increased pressure; maybe IS should question the value added of pledges born from desperation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Russian Maidan? Oh no you won’t.

David Rose - The Telegraph - Source

Earlier this month, Russian armed forces staged exercises designed to improve readiness and capability, as well as to send a message of defiance to the international community.  However, there were actually two separate series of exercises held.  In addition to the conventional exercise, internal security forces conducted training operations to improve their ability to quell internal threats to the Russian state.  This exercise (Zaslon-2015) is emblematic of the Kremlin’s trend of looking to the interior when considering threats to the state.  This approach is logical and recent history proves it.

Zaslon (which roughly translates to screen or covering force) featured internal security forces addressing situations similar to what observers have seen in Ukraine and in other revolutions in post-Soviet countries.  Training facilitators utilized bottles, Molotov cocktails, as well as primitive firearms (such as hunting rifles and other non-militarized weapons).

Following the legislative elections in the winter of 2011, protests erupted on the streets of Moscow and other large cities.  Their main concern was the blatant appearance of electoral fraud, as well as systemic corruption.  This event definitely made an impression in the ruling United Russia party’s collective mind that a government overthrow is a major threat.  In addition, there was definitely a sense of “biting the hand that feeds you”, as President Putin viewed his party’s rule as one that provided stability and relative economic prosperity and growth.  Thus, it’s perceived that the discontented urban middle classes on the streets were actually a creation of the economic atmosphere that he, personally, provided.  (Let’s not talk about the higher oil prices that contributed as well)

Additionally, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian civilian authorities and security officers (of which Putin emerged from) have witnessed multiple protest-triggered revolutions in former Soviet Union states.  These are collectively known as the color revolutions.  Georgia emerged from the Rose revolution to a pro-western government that is begging to for closer ties to NATO.  It goes without saying that the recent Maidan revolution in Ukraine has triggered even more intensified concerns.  This comes to a front when considering the recent crackdown on NGOs and civil society operators domestically.  The Kremlin directly views many internationally-funded civil society organizations as direct attempts by the United States and NATO to foment domestic unrest.  It’s not an entirely unreasonable perspective, as authoritarian-leaning governments have an interest in maintaining a closed political system.

Failure of Resolve - Shepard Sherbell - Corbis - Source

Overall, taking into account the failures of internal security forces to defend the August 1991 coup forces from the pro-reform Russian public, we should expect to see more training exercises with the intent of quelling internal threats to the current administration, especially if economic conditions and the patriotic fervor continue to deteriorate.  The current difficulties faced by authorities in removing the memorial display dedicated to recently-murdered opposition figure Boris Nemtsov provide a reminder that the political opposition makes up for a lack of numbers with dedication and resolve.  President Putin knows this.

Further Reading:

The Jamestown foundation produced a good write-up of the demographics.
Also, the Khodorkovsky-linked Institute for a Modern Russia went into the interior security structure in the context of Zaslon-2015.