Posts filed under Global Economy

Axis of Confusion

So I apparently have geopolitics on the brain this weekend. There are two important geopolitical topics from this fall that I can't wrap my head around. 1. The North Koreans accepting to dismantle their nuclear infrastructure

2. The September Israeli strike on Syria


1. I am in "I'll believe it when I see it" mode about North Korea.

Their leadership, rightly, believes that their nuclear arsenal is what protects the regime and has sacrificed immensely to get there, including enduring years of sanctions and putting something like 10% of their minimal GDP into their nuclear program. I simply can't believe they have now decided to give it up.

Prediction: This deal falls apart, perhaps with the next administration, just like the Clinton deal did

2. Even more bizarre is the Israeli airstrike on Syria. The normal interpretation given Israel's history of airstrikes would suggest that this would not occur unless they were hitting a non-conventional/nuclear target.

So here is what I don't understand:

a) If Syria had started a nuclear program and the Israelis bombed it, shouldn't that be getting a ton more publicity? You would expect the US to be promoting Syria to Senior Member of the Axis of Evil at this point. Instead both the US and Israel have been dead quiet.

b) On the other hand, it is pretty clear that Israel did not bomb a childrens' toy factory.

While Syria said it was "absolutely, totally, fundamentally ridiculous and untrue. There are no nuclear North Korean-Syrian facilities whatsoever in Syria," it only made a perfunctory protest, has not show much evidence and, according to the NYTimes, "neither Iran nor any Arab government except for Syria has criticized the Israeli raid." The lack of Arab protests is both remarkable and an indication that this was probably nuclear.

c) Making this even more confusing, supposedly it was North Korea that was helping with the nuclear facility (and North Korea was the only country to protest the Israeli attack). So the North Koreas have simultaneously decided to shut down their nuclear operations and help Syria set up operations of its own. Hard to believe.


Net result, we are not getting the whole story here and clearly the mainstream press has been put on a muzzle and/or not being fed any information, otherwise the topic of "North Korea is helping Syria to building nuclear weapons" would have been covered in the media 10x a day.

Even usually reliable is confused.

They give a timeline of explanations but the best they came up with is that the US and Israel were caught by surprise and therefore did not have anything to say to the press. So, in other words, also has no clue what is going on.


US assesses that Iran stopped nuclear weapons work in 2003. Would not have weapon ready until 2013 at earliest. Obviously, this is a significant de-escalation from more recent rhetoric on Iran. I am working with the obvious assumption that publicly declared intelligence assessments have PR purposes.

Something is definitely afoot, perhaps as simple as wanting to reduce the pressure on the US take more aggressive measures on Iran, Syria, North Korea.

Other resources:

* An academic review from the Monterey Institute on the topic

* NY Times article

* and just for fun, an oldie from SatireWire. "Passed over, Syria, China, Libya form the Axis of Just-as-Evil"

Posted on December 2, 2007 and filed under Global Economy.


Off topic for a moment. Do you know what NSPD 51? It appears to establish a framework for a temporary, extra-constitutional government in the event of a national catastrophe.

It was released on the White House website without comment in May. As usual, the mainstream press ignored it.

Some version of this plan has previously existed -This is the first one made public.

It seems curiously sloppily drafted for such a critical documet that gives a pathway for the presidency to assert control of the country. It appears that this plan can be triggered at the sole discretion of the President and there is no timeframe for return to standard constitutional order.

Of course a document and plan should exist for continuity planning, but shouldn't this be something vetted by congress and the judiciary as opposed to a presidential directive? Instead, the executive branch is denying access to the classified annexes of this document, even to congressmen on the homeland security committee with classified authorization.

Original Press Release at White House.

Wikipedia has some more background:

(b) "Catastrophic Emergency" means any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions;

(e) "Enduring Constitutional Government," or "ECG," means a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government, coordinated by the President, as a matter of comity with respect to the legislative and judicial branches and with proper respect for the constitutional separation of powers among the branches, to preserve the constitutional framework under which the Nation is governed and the capability of all three branches of government to execute constitutional responsibilities and provide for orderly succession, appropriate transition of leadership, and interoperability and support of the National Essential Functions during a catastrophic emergency;

Enduring Constitutional Government sounds positively Orweillian. .

(6) The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government for ensuring constitutional government. In order to advise and assist the President in that function, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (APHS/CT) is hereby designated as the National Continuity Coordinator. The National Continuity Coordinator, in coordination with the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA), without exercising directive authority, shall coordinate the development and implementation of continuity policy for executive departments and agencies. The Continuity Policy Coordination Committee (CPCC), chaired by a Senior Director from the Homeland Security Council staff, designated by the National Continuity Coordinator, shall be the main day-to-day forum for such policy coordination.

Posted on December 2, 2007 and filed under Global Economy.

How to Bait Turkey?

From Global Guerrillas John Robb writes:

The question for global guerrillas operating in Iraq is: how do you bait Turkey to invade Kurdistan?

Turkey already has 140,000 troops massed on the border with Kurdistan -- in response to its support of PKK guerrilla attacks within Turkish territory. One mechanism is to heat up attacks on ethnic Turkmen living in Iraq (a social systempunkt of 800,000 people). The early July marketplace car bomb in Emerli, which killed an estimated 210 civilians, was a step in this direction. We can expect more attacks like this in the future. A Turkish invasion of Kurdistan would achieve:

* Political disorder. A massive rift between the US and Turkey. A defacto state of war between Iraq and Turkey. Strong alignment of political goals between the PKK and Kurdistan.

* Factional disintegration in Iraq. The departure/desertion of Kurdish troops from the Iraqi army. Refurbished Kurdish peshmerga are the heart and soul of the Iraqi army (as well as many private military companies).

* Supply and economic disruption. Loss of vital commercial connectivity with Turkey (needed for a huge range of business and supply needs).

There is not much more for me to say on this, except that this is within the range of reasonable possibilities and would be a disaster. Turkey is vulnerable to being baited because they are very sensitive about both the Kurdish and Turkmen issue.

And if they came into Kurdish Iraq, they would have quite a fight on their hands vis-a-vis the peshmerga. Just like with US troops, the Turkish army would win the mechanized, conventional war and then end up in an endless grind of guerrilla warfare. Turkey was not really able to subdue the PKK for years in Turkey and the PKK was much weaker than the peshmerga are.

And beyond that, it probably puts all of Iraq in play and makes a US withdrawal all but impossible.

Right now, this is just muscle-flexing by Turkey, but it will be interesting to see what happens. The Kurds, spread across Turkey, Iraq and Iran, remain the largest ethnicity by far without a nation-state and have to secretly be wondering if and how this turmoil ends up giving them an opportunity to carve out a state of their own (a la Kosovo).

Of course the wisest thing for Turkey would be not to take the bait, so we will see if they have that level of strategic maturity on the issue.

Posted on July 15, 2007 and filed under Global Economy.

The Future of War is Now

John Robb of Global Guerillas has a chapter excerpt of his new book, Brave New War up online. An excerpt:

The conflict in Iraq has foreshadowed the future of global security in much the same way that the Spanish civil war prefigured World War II: it’s become a testing ground, a dry run for something much larger. Unlike previous insurgencies, the one in Iraq comprises seventy-five to one hundred small, diverse, and autonomous groups of zealots, patriots, and criminals alike. These groups, of course, have access to many of the same tools we do—from satellite phones to engineering degrees—and they use them every bit as effectively.

But their single most important asset is their organizational structure, an open-source community network—one that seems to me quite similar to what we see in the software industry. That’s how they’re able to continually stay one step ahead of us. It is an extremely innovative structure, sadly, and it results in decision-making cycles much shorter than those of the U.S. military. Indeed, because the insurgents in Iraq lack a recognizable center of gravity—a leadership structure or an ideology—they are nearly immune to the application of conventional military force. Like Microsoft, the software superpower, the United States hasn’t found its match in a Goliath competitor similar to itself, but in a loose, self-tuning network.

Read the full chapter excerpt here

John's blog is one of the most insightful I have seen recently on global security. He probably overstates the uniqueness of current insurgencies (e.g. Algeria, Vietnam and Afghanistan also benefited from dispersion, small cells and distributed decision-making), but his long-term view that small groups are becoming more capable is spot on.

I have already ordered the book. I will update when I have read it!

Posted on April 20, 2007 and filed under Global Economy.