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Commentary: Iran and Saudi Arabia: A Power Struggle and A Way Forward | The National Interest

Commentary: Iran and Saudi Arabia: A Power Struggle and A Way Forward | The National Interest.

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February 27, 2014

Al Arabiya, the news agency owned by Saudi Arabia, recently reported that Frederic Hof, a State Department official, has saidthat he was told by Iranian diplomats that their country considers Saudi Arabia, not Israel or the United States, as the main threat to its national security. This is important, but not new to Iranians. Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, the relations between the two nations have been strained. Saudi Arabia has always helped in propagating the Salafi-Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam and considers itself the guardian of Islam’s holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, but the Shiite-led revolution in Iran challenged its authority and created a competitor and alternative for what it preaches.

The first challenge to Saudi Arabia after the Iranian revolution was about Palestine. The Islamic Republic considered itself the most important supporter of the Palestinians, constantly espousing the view that the Arab governments are puppets of the United States and, hence, do not react strongly to occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel. This could not be considered as mere Shiite propaganda, as Iran was giving funds and weapons to Sunni Palestinian groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. To protect itself against Israel and to expand its influence in the region, Iran also helped in the founding of Lebanese Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia’s Support for Iraq during its War with Iran

Less than two years after the Islamic Revolution, Saddam Hussein’s regime invaded Iran. The Arab nations of the Persian Gulf provided Iraq with tens of billions of dollars in aid. During the first 20 months of the war Saudi Arabia was giving $1 billion a month. A report by the CIA stated that Western powers gave Iraq $35 billion, while Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates provided another $30-40 billion. Another report indicated that the trio gave Iraq $30.9, $8.2, and $8 billion, respectively.

Breakdown of the Diplomatic Relations

But, two events during the war led to termination of diplomatic relations between the two countries, both tied to Iranian pilgrims to Mecca. In his daily memoirs of the war, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wrote on 11 August 1986, “[Interior Minister} Mr. [Ali Mohammad] Besharati informed me that Saudi Arabia has announced that the explosive T.N.T. has been found in the luggage of several Iranian pilgrims.” On 28 August 1986 he wrote that Saudi Arabia had released 110 of the 113 of the Iranians that it had detained, and Mehdi Karroubi, a representative of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was to thank King Fahd of Saudi Arabia for their release.

In his resignation letter to then President Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 5 September 1988, former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi wrote, “I became aware of the explosives in Saudi Arabia only after they had been discovered. Unfortunately, and despite all the damage that such moves have inflicted on our nation, they can still happen at any moment and in the name of the government.” In a letter to Khomeini dated 10 October 1986, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri who was Khomeini’s deputy at that time, wrote , “During Haj [Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca] the Sepaah [IRGC] commits inappropriate acts, abusing the luggage of old men and women without informing them, and making a bad name for Iran and the Revolution, so much so that Mr. Karroubi must ask [King] Fahd for a favor [to release the arrested people].” In response, Khomeini’s son Ahmad wrote, “Is there any other way to carry out revolutionary acts in Mecca? Sometimes such acts go smoothly, sometime they create problems. I do not necessarily support them, but this is typically how they are done.”

Then, in a demonstration on 31 July 1987 in Saudi Arabia, Iranian pilgrims chanted “death to America” and “death to Israel.” The Saudi security forces opened fire on the demonstrators, killing 402, of whom 275 were Iranians, and injuring 649. Saudi Arabia closed its embassy in Tehran and cut off its diplomatic relations.

Resumption of Diplomatic Relations

The Iran-Iraq war ended in July 1988, but on 2 August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait and annexed it to its territory. The Arab nations of the Persian Gulf asked Iran for help. On 23 August 1990 Kuwait’s foreign minister visited Iran, followed by Saudi’s foreign minister’s visit on October 28. Then Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati spoke by phone with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, on 13 February 1991, and a few days later the two met in Geneva. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were resumed on 20 March 1991.

Terrorists attacked the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia on 25 June 1996, where U.S. military personnel were living, killing 19 and injuring 400. President Bill Clinton ordered the Pentagonto update its plans for bombing Iran, but did not order any attacks. The next year the reformist Mohammad Khatami was elected Iran’s president and Clinton wanted to pursue diplomacy with Iran. Saudi officials believed that the bombing had been done by domestic dissidents, who might have received some help from Iran. A report in 2003 indicated that the attacks had been carried out by Al Qaeda. In his memoirs, Clinton wrote that during summer of 1996 there was no definitive evidence as to who had carried out the attacks.

Saudi Arabia Demand Bombing of Iran

Saudi Arabia views Iran as its most dangerous enemy. A document released by WikiLeaks indicates that in a meeting in April 2008 between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, then U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, the King urged the United States to bomb Iran. King Abdullah had reportedly said that the U.S. “must cut off the head of the snake,” namely, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Another secret cable released by WikiLeaks indicated that in December 2005 King Abdullah lashed out at George W. Bush’s administration for ignoring his warnings against invading Iraq in 2003, noting that the new Iraqi government was dominated by Shiites with close ties to Iran. “Whereas in the past the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Saddam Hussein had agreed on the need to contain Iran, U.S. policy had now given Iraq to Iran as a ‘gift on a golden platter,’” the U.S. Embassy cable quoted the king as complaining. And, in his memoirs Bush wrote that both Israel and Saudi Arabia pressured him to attack Iran, and that when he met with King Abdullah in January 2008, he told him that he was angry with the National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007 that stated that Iran did not have an active nuclear-weapons program. Saudi Arabia has also always supported imposition of crippling economic sanctions on Iran, which are now in effect.

Saudi Arabia Confronting the Arab Spring

Saudi Arabia has been opposed to the Arab Spring, because it was meant to replace dictatorships with democratic systems that respect human rights. Former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Prince Turki al-Faisal declared that Arab Spring is a cause of “ruin and destruction.” The Arab Spring is “evil,” declared a member of the Grand Oulemas, Sheikh Saleh al-Fawzan, and Saudi officials have referred to the Arab Spring as fitnasedition. On the other hand, Saud al-Faisal declared arming the opposition in Syria “a duty.” Thus, Saudi Arabia began countering the democratic aspirations of the Arab people by carrying out major plans for financial and military backing to those that it saw fit. Some of what the Saudis have done is as follows:

One is transforming the struggle for democracy to a sectarian war between the Shiites and Sunnis. The sectoring war has been consolidated, leading to more religious killings. But, the Islamic Republic fiercely opposes such a war because Shiites are a minority in the Islamic world, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has called Arab Spring an “Islamic awakening” against Israel and the United States. Muslims killing other Muslims also benefits only their enemies, a point emphasized by Khamenei time and again, who has warned against what he calls “Islamic takfiri terrorists.” A takfiri is a Muslim that accuses other Muslims of apostasy, which is what some Sunnis do routinely against the Shiites. In addition, Iran lacks the resources to fight the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, even if it were inclined to—during 2012-2013, for example, Saudi Arabia increased its military budget by 111 percent, totaling $59.6 billion in 2013. Iran cannot match this.

Second, the secular regime of President Bashar al-Assad tried to violently put down its opponents. Russia, China and Iran are allies of Assad’s regime, but the U.S., its European allies, a majority of Arab nations and Saudi Arabia want to overthrow the regime. Thus, the war in Syria, in addition to being sectarian, has also become one of vicegerency, one in which each side fights on behalf of its supporters. In the process, Syria has been destroyed and tens of thousands of people have been killed. It has become a great magnet to, and a center of terrorism in the world, and the Salafi fundamentalists that are supported by Saudi Arabia and are the enemies of democracy and human rights have become stronger. Saudi Arabia is still pursuing the fall of the Assad regime and its replacement by the groups that it supports. It is also opposed to Iran’s participation in the Geneva peace conference. Iran, while having no particular attachment to Bashar al-Assad, views his leaving the scene as the complete collapse of his regime and the dominance of Al Qaeda-linked groups, which it opposes.

Third, Saudi Arabia also opposed the Arab Spring in Bahrain, dispatching its troops there and helping the ruling Sunni minority to violently crackdown on the protestors, hence playing the most important role in the defeat of Arab Spring in Bahrain.

Fourth, Saudi Arabia has been an ardent supporter of Egypt’s military regime that staged the July 2013 coup and overthrew the regime of President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. It has given the Egyptian regime billions of dollars in aid. The Brotherhood did have close relations with Iran either. In fact, it is in Iran’s interest to see the Middle East run by secular governments, as religious ones do not tolerate one another.

Finally, the Shiite power in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen provoked Saudi Arabia and, thus, it has transformed the three nations to its battlegrounds with Iran. In 2013 alone, 8868 Iraqis were killed in the fight with Al Qaeda and Salafi groups, and another 1013 in January of this year. Iraq has repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia of supporting the terrorists. 45 percent of Yemen’s population is Shiite, and that has turned Yemen to another stage for the war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Many believe that the Yemeni government is under the control of the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia Support for Terrorism in Iran

There have been many reports on Saudi Arabia’s support for the rise of new Salafi groups in Iran’s provinces that are on its borders with Iraq and Pakistan. For example, Jundallah, a Baluchi separatist group, is one that employs the language and methods of Salafi groups. And there are reports indicating Salafi jihad In Iran’s province of Kurdistan.

Saudi Arabia’s Opposition to the Geneva Nuclear Accord

Saudi Arabia has been concerned about a rapprochement between Iran and the U.S., and the Geneva Accord between Iran and P5+1 further frustrated it. Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt,acknowledged recently the sectarian nature of the war in Syria, and said that Iran and Saudi Arabia have never liked each other, but their current enmity toward one another is at its most intense level ever. The U.S., she says, must explain to the Saudis its policy toward Iran on a daily basis. The President will also go to Saudi Arabia in March to further explain this policy. Jordan and Saudi Arabia’s kings have told President Obama that he should try to end Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy—but if that does not succeed, that he should try to achieve the goal through crippling economic sanctions and, if necessary, military strikes.

The Way Forward

Given Saudi Arabia’s enmity toward Iran, what can Iran do to lower the tension?

One is to improve its relations with the United States and other Western powers. Friendly relations between Iran and the U.S. are in the national interests of both countries. Confronting the terrorist groups, and addressing the crises in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the region put the two nations in the same front.

Second, Iran must improve its relations with the countries of the region. This entails recognizing the legitimate interests of these countries in having national security, political independence and sovereignty. Proposing practical ways of ridding the region of weapons of mass destruction, guaranteeing collective security for all, and agreeing not to resort to force for solving problems between the nations of the region will greatly help the cause. Turki al-Faisal has described the Saudis views about the principles of a collective agreement on the security of the region. Iran must also do the same and begin negotiating with Saudi Arabia and the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf.

The fault lines of the regions are between democracy and dictatorship. Every regime in the region is trapped by corruption, repression and violent crackdowns on their own people. No problem will be solved without democratization of the region. The Islamic Republic too faces similar problems, and cannot escape them without recognizing the legitimate rights of its people—respecting their votes and their rights as citizens and as humans. Iran’s present rulers can also be a part of this process, to the extent that their social base of support indicates. Either all the political forces and groups in Iran, including the current ruling group, accept pluralism in Iran or the repressed aspirations and demands of the Iranian people will, at some point, lead to social explosion and possibly another revolution.

If the West, led by the United States, supports peace, stability and elimination of terrorism in the Middle East, it must set aside its double standards. Protesting the gross violations of human rights and repression of the dictatorial regime must be uniformly done, without differentiating between allies and foes. The West must support the transition process to democracy and respect for human rights, but the experience with Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya—which has been practically partitioned into two parts—and Syria taught everyone a great lesson: military intervention cannot democratize any country. Such interventions have destroyed the invaded nations, and helped terrorism grow.

In a recent interview with the BBC, former CIA director and secretary of defense RobertGates questioned whether “artificial” states in the Middle East “like Libya, Iraq and Syria can be held together absent of repression,” because in his opinion they were made up of “historically adversarial groups.” Thus, Gates seems to have recognized that regime change based on military intervention may lead to the disintegration of the invaded countries. Is it not sad and depressing that after twelve years of intervention in that region, invading Iraq and Afghanistan for “democratizing the Middle East” and imposing a terrible fate on the people of the region, a statesman like Gates talks about the region in this fashion?

Akbar Ganji is an Iranian investigative journalist and dissident. He was imprisoned in Tehran from 2000 to 2006, and his writings are currently banned in Iran.

 

Commentary: Asia’s 1937 Syndrome | The National Interest

Commentary: Asia’s 1937 Syndrome | The National Interest.

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February 4, 2014

In first days of July 1937, Chinese and Japanese soldiers skirmished in Wanping, a few miles southwest of what is now the Chinese capital. China’s Chiang Kai-shek then knew his army was no match for Japan’s, and he had many opportunities to avoid battle with a vastly superior foe. Yet he ultimately chose war.

So why did Chiang decide to fight? And how did a minor—and probably accidental—clash turn into years of disastrous conflict? Now, analysts think today’s Asia feels like 1914 Europe, and last month in Davos Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe likened today’s situation involving his country and China to that of England and Germany a hundred years ago. The better comparison, however, is 1937. The parallels between then and now, unfortunately, are striking.

The “China Incident,” as the Japanese then called the war, began on the banks of the Yongding River in Wanping during the night of July 7, 1937. Imperial troops, shooting blanks in an evening exercise, found themselves under fire, presumably from elements of the Chinese 29th Army. After the minor exchange near Lugouqiao, commonly known as the Marco Polo Bridge, Japanese officers were alarmed when one of their soldiers failed to turn up for a roll call. They then demanded that Chinese guards let them search nearby Wanping, where the Japanese had no general permission to enter.

A refusal triggered days of skirmishes. Once the fighting started, it did not matter that the stray Japanese private, who is thought to have wandered off to urinate, eventually turned up unhurt. Soon, Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China was at war. The Japanese in short order would take the Marco Polo Bridge, cut off Beijing from the rest of the country, and seize that city. They would then drive Chiang’s forces from the metropolis of Shanghai, the capital of Nanjing, and most of the rest of eastern China.

Chiang could have avoided the descent into a war in July 1937. In fact, both sides had agreed to a truce after the initial fighting around the Marco Polo Bridge. Yet the agreement did not hold. Oxford professor Rana Mitter compares the events then to those surrounding the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo in 1914. War, in both cases, was coming.

It is not hard to see why conflict between China and Japan was inevitable in the late 1930s. Japan was obviously determined to control portions of continental Asia. Its troops were stationed near Wanping pursuant to a 1901 treaty signed after foreign powers, including Japan, had put down the Boxer Rebellion. Japan had previously humiliated the Qing dynasty in a quick war ending in 1895, wresting control of Korea and Taiwan. Japan had also grabbed a portion of northeastern China from the Russians in the first decade of the twentieth century and invaded Manchuria in 1931, establishing puppet state of Manchukuo there. The Japanese massacred Chinese under their control.

In the late 1930s there were many incidents involving China’s troops and those of Japan. Most of these were settled quickly because Chinese commanders on the ground would give into Japanese demands or make concessions of some sort. In July 1937, officers guarding Wanping refused Japanese demands and Chiang realized he would have to make a stand. “The dwarf bandits have attacked at Lugouqiao,” he wrote in his diary, using one of his favorite terms for his enemy. “This is the time for the determination to fight.”

Intelligence Boss: We Should Have Told You We’re Spying On You … But Snowden Is a Traitor for Telling You that We’re Spying On You Washington’s Blog

Intelligence Boss: We Should Have Told You We’re Spying On You … But Snowden Is a Traitor for Telling You that We’re Spying On You Washington’s Blog.

The Very Same Disclosure That Turned Edward Snowden Into A “Traitor” And Was Going To Do So Much “Harm” To American Security Is Something James Clapper SaysHe Should Have Done In The First Place

TechDirt notes:

Spy bigwig James Clapper … wrote to Ron Wyden that section 215 leaks “will do significant damage to the intelligence community’s ability to protect the nation.”

Now, in a move that will surprise nobody, since Clapper is a proven liar, he has reversed course and says that the government should have told the American people about section 215.

“What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” he said, referring to the first disclosures from Snowden. If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it. But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing.”

Unbelievable. So the very same disclosure that turned Edward Snowden into a traitor and was going to do so much harm to American security is something Clapper says he should have done in the first place?

Of course, Clapper is only saying this because polls show that the American public is glad they know what Snowden has revealeddoesn’t trust or believe the NSA, and values privacy over anti-terror protections.

Guest Post: Running Away From Reality | Zero Hedge

Guest Post: Running Away From Reality | Zero Hedge.

From Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo, published originally in Expansion

View from Spain: Running away from reality (pdf)

In a society that’s incessantly pulling all sorts of rights out of its hat, the right to not suffer is the father of them all. We feel entitled to keep our jobs, our health, our home and our leisure, demanding in fact to be carefree. We don’t want our lifestyle to depend on how hard we work or how much we save, and neither do we want our wrong decisions to have any consequences. In our delirium, we feel we have the right to know the future or even to decide when life should start (that of others, of course) and also when death should come (usually that of others as well). In brief, we want the security that we will be able to avoid pain. The problem is that, in life, pain is as undesirable as it is inevitable, and security, in the words of Helen Keller, is “a superstition that does not exist in nature”. However, man persists in his chimerical search for the security that will keep him free from suffering. Citizens demand that from their ruling classes, who promise ever more extravagant rights and certainties, constantly fleeing reality and truth. And in this hysterical, unbridled race to reach an evanescent security, liberty is thrown into the dust like a bothersome burden.

The free man must be responsible for his behavior without being able to blame anyone else when things go wrong. He must live in discomfort and uncertainty and accept the authorship of all his decisions. This is hard. That’s why as soon as the sweet illusion of freedom gives way for the bitter taste of responsibility and effort which that very freedom bears with it, man revolts against the latter. Some 3500 years ago, the Jewish people, having been oppressed for generations by slavery, was freed by Moses, who took them out of Egypt in order to lead them to the Promised Land. But just a few short days after their last minute’s escape from Pharaoh’s claws in the Red Sea, as the harshness of the desert started to put a dent in their spirit, the Jews forgot the humiliations, whippings, hardships and indignity of their slavery, cursed their freedom and blamed their liberator for freeing them, to the extent that Moses was nearly stoned: “Why did we not die at Yahweh’s hand in Egypt, where we used to sit round the flesh pots and could eat to our heart’s content!”. The security of a hot meal and a loaf of bread seemed worth more than the recently recovered freedom.

It goes without saying that throughout History all power seekers and power holders have taken good note of this story. They have come to realize that all they need to have the people surrender their liberty is to promise them security: a certainty – liberty – in exchange for a promise – security; an extremely valuable good in exchange for a chimera. And over and over again, the people have fallen into the same trap.

Today, under the disguise of a promise of physical security, governments treat each of us as if we were suspected criminals and not free citizens with rights: they record our conversations, intercept our mails, take our fingerprints and as many pictures as they deem necessary, do body searches and leave us half naked when we travel as if it were business as usual, and ruthlessly hunt down as traitors those who uncover these practices.

As far as economic security is concerned, totalitarian communism was an extreme of this barter: the people lost their liberty and never found any security, except for the certainty of being poor under a merciless tyranny. The fraudulent Welfare State proposed something similar (do you believe that the wording of Social “Security” is casual?): it promised a paradise of “free” pensions, healthcare and education in exchange for giving up our freedom to save (thus relieving us off the uncomfortable responsibility of doing so). We surrendered our savings to the politicians, those incurable squanderers, well known for anything but respecting either their word or other people’s money! And now that, even after burying us under a mountain of taxes and perpetual debts, public money is scarce and nearing extinction, where is the promised security to be found? We must understand once and forever more that security is not only liberty’s enemy, but an impediment to prosperity. In fact, security and prosperity are antonyms.

The 2008 financial crisis was mostly caused by politicians and central bankers wanting to avoid the suffering caused by economic cycles. Due to the irritating fact that pained voters tend not to reelect incumbent governments, what better promise could they make than that of trying to end recessions and live in a plateau of permanent prosperity? We still believe the charlatans who, in politics or in central banking, assure us that they can get rid of the uncertainty that terrifies us so much. We long for a control that simply does not exist, and these are the consequences: perversely, the chimeric search for security brings much more suffering than what it pretended to avoid in the first place.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII prophetically forewarned us in his wise Encyclical Rerum Novarum about the evils that are now upon us: “To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently – who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment – they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present”.

We have to accept insecurity and pain as something inherent to human nature and promptly mistrust anyone promising the opposite, in the conviction that that promise only seeks to fool the unsuspecting. An economic and political system focused on avoiding the inevitable, promising an inexistent security, is due to fail and headed for poverty. That’s why we should make peace with the reality of uncertainty and suffering and not try to escape from both. Only from the deep acceptance of these realities, will the trembling, fragile ember of hope that has always raised the human being up from his falls catch fire again. The history of man is the successful story of a flexible adaptation to an ever changing, ever insecure environment. As a country, we should look suffering in the eye, without fear, and dedicate all our energies to adapting to the new reality instead of continuously running away from it.

Commentary: Will America’s Asian Allies Go Nuclear? | The National Interest

Commentary: Will America’s Asian Allies Go Nuclear? | The National Interest.

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January 30, 2014

North Korea’s nuclear-weapon developments and belligerent rhetoric, along with China’s military modernization and growing assertiveness, are creating direct challenges for Japan and South Korea, Washington’s Northeast Asian allies. In response, the United States has adapted its force posture and declaratory policy, and taken important steps to strengthen deterrence and reassure its allies. The recent decision to send an additional US Army combat force of eight hundred soldiers to South Korea with tanks and armored troop carriers and the pledge to maintain the US nuclear umbrella against North Korean threats is another step in Washington’s efforts to enhance defense of its ally.

While major conflicts have been deterred, it is unclear whether Japan and South Korea are reassured. Publicly and in private discussions, Japanese and South Korean officials insist that they trust US defense commitments. But they ask revealing questions about the conditions under which the United States would act, and how it would do so. They wonder about their roles and responsibilities, as Washington presses them to assume more of the defense and deterrence burden. And they worry about the reduction of roles and numbers of nuclear weapons in US strategy and, despite Washington’s rebalance to Asia, the ability of the United States to defend them well in a fiscally constrained environment. Plainly, US disengagement is a concern.

Could these concerns drive Japan and South Korea to resort to self-help and develop nuclear weapons? Both are technologically capable of going nuclear quickly, and this would be the cheapest way of increasing their indigenous military capabilities. But the real question is whether they would be willing to do so. While Japan remains allergic to the idea of crossing the nuclear threshold, there is growing public support, backed by influential elites, for manufacture of nuclear weapons in South Korea.

Neither Japan nor South Korea would develop nuclear weapons lightly. In all probability, the determining factor in their decision would hinge on its impact on their alliance with the United States.

What reaction, then, should they expect from Washington? There are two alternatives. One is that while unhappy, the United States would keep its alliances to maintain a favorable balance of power in East Asia. That logic would be bolstered by the idea that possession of nuclear weapons by each country would strengthen deterrence of North Korea and China. US policymakers would view Japan and South Korea as the United Kingdom―a US ally with nuclear forces integrated with US forces, with shared nuclear roles and responsibilities―or France―an ally operating independent nuclear forces. In other words, geopolitical dimensions would dominate the US reaction.

The second alternative is that the United States would terminate its alliances. Washington would conclude that permitting a nuclear-armed Japan and South Korea to remain as allies would drive others to follow suit. It would assess that the odds of this happening in Asia are high given growing nuclear latency, complex regional dynamics, and the absence of an organization like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to hold US allies and partners together. Washington would also fear that this cascade could spill over into other regions, threatening the entire nonproliferation regime, creating instability, increasing war prospects, and ultimately eclipsing the US role as a responsible stakeholder for international order. Here, nonproliferation considerations would drive the US reaction.

Should Washington choose geopolitics over nonproliferation? The short answer is no. In the face of Japan’s and South Korea’s nuclearization, the United States should cut them adrift because endorsing their decision (through a UK-like arrangement) or acquiescing to it (à la France) would be untenable.

Recall that the United Kingdom and France went nuclear before the conclusion of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). (Even then, this generated important concerns in Washington.) With nonproliferation now proscribed under international law, entrenched as an international norm, and given such a major focus in US nuclear policy, not upholding it for its allies would be a nonstarter. Significantly, the net result would be a double failure for Washington: a reassurance failure and a failure to enforce nonproliferation rules, exposing the United States to considerable risks it should not take.

The 2010 US Nuclear Posture Review commits the United States to strengthening regional security architectures as needed and in a tailored manner. In Northeast Asia, substantial progress has been achieved through the bilateral consultative mechanisms it has established with Japan and South Korea. As the “strengthening” process continues, Washington should remind its allies that if they broke out of the NPT, they would break up their alliance.

David Santoro is a senior fellow at the Pacific Forum CSIS, where he specializes in nonproliferation and nuclear security, disarmament, arms control, and deterrence issues, with a regional focus on the Asia-Pacific region and Europe. You can follow him on Twitter:@DavidSantoro1.

Big money behind war: the military-industrial complex – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

Big money behind war: the military-industrial complex – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

Perpetual war represents perpetual profits for the ever expanding business and government interests [AFP]
In January 1961, US President Dwight D Eisenhower used his farewell address to warn the nation of what he viewed as one of its greatest threats: the military-industrial complex composed of military contractors and lobbyists perpetuating war.

Eisenhower warned that “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” had emerged as a hidden force in US politics and that Americans “must not fail to comprehend its grave implications”. The speech may have been Eisenhower’s most courageous and prophetic moment. Fifty years and some later, Americans find themselves in what seems like perpetual war. No sooner do we draw down on operations in Iraq than leaders demand an intervention in Libya or Syria or Iran. While perpetual war constitutes perpetual losses for families, and ever expanding budgets, it also represents perpetual profits for a new and larger complex of business and government interests.

The new military-industrial complex is fuelled by a conveniently ambiguous and unseen enemy: the terrorist. Former President George W Bush and his aides insisted on calling counter-terrorism efforts a “war”. This concerted effort by leaders like former Vice President Dick Cheney (himself the former CEO of defence-contractor Halliburton) was not some empty rhetorical exercise. Not only would a war maximise the inherent powers of the president, but it would maximise the budgets for military and homeland agencies.

This new coalition of companies, agencies, and lobbyists dwarfs the system known by Eisenhower when he warned Americans to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence… by the military-industrial complex”. Ironically, it has had some of its best days under President Barack Obama who has radically expanded drone attacks and claimed that he alone determines what a war is for the purposes of consulting Congress.

Investment in homeland security companies is expected to yield a 12 percent annual growth through 2013 – an astronomical return when compared to other parts of the tanking economy.

Good for economy?

While few politicians are willing to admit it, we don’t just endure wars we seem to need war – at least for some people. A study showed that roughly 75 percent of the fallen in these wars come from working class families. They do not need war. They pay the cost of the war. Eisenhower would likely be appalled by the size of the industrial and governmental workforce committed to war or counter-terrorism activities. Military and homeland budgets now support millions of people in an otherwise declining economy. Hundreds of billions of dollars flow each year from the public coffers to agencies and contractors who have an incentive to keep the country on a war-footing – and footing the bill for war.

Across the country, the war-based economy can be seen in an industrywhich includes everything from Homeland Security educational degrees to counter-terrorism consultants to private-run preferred traveller programmes for airport security gates. Recently, the “black budget” of secret intelligence programmes alone was estimated at $52.6bn for 2013. That is only the secret programmes, not the much larger intelligence and counterintelligence budgets. We now have 16 spy agencies that employ 107,035 employees. This is separate from the over one million people employed by the military and national security law enforcement agencies.

The core of this expanding complex is an axis of influence of corporations, lobbyists, and agencies that have created a massive, self-sustaining terror-based industry.

The contractors

In the last eight years, trillions of dollars have flowed to military and homeland security companies. When the administration starts a war like Libya, it is a windfall for companies who are given generous contracts to produce everything from replacement missiles to ready-to-eat meals.

In the first 10 days of the Libyan war alone, the administration spent roughly $550m. That figure includes about $340m for munitions – mostly cruise missiles that must be replaced. Not only did Democratic members of Congress offer post-hoc support for the Libyan attack, but they also proposed a permanent authorisation for presidents to attack targets deemed connected to terrorism – a perpetual war on terror. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offers an even steadier profit margin. According to Morgan Keegan, a wealth management and capital firm, investment in homeland security companies is expected to yield a 12 percent annual growth through 2013 – an astronomical return when compared to other parts of the tanking economy.

The lobbyists

There are thousands of lobbyists in Washington to guarantee the ever-expanding budgets for war and homeland security. One such example is former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff who pushed the purchase of the heavily criticised (and little tested) full-body scanners used in airports. When Chertoff was giving dozens of interviews to convince the public that the machines were needed to hold back the terror threat, many people were unaware that the manufacturer of the machine is a client of the Chertoff Group, his highly profitable security consulting agency. (Those hugely expensive machines were later scrapped after Rapiscan, the manufacturer, received the windfall.)

Lobbyists maintain pressure on politicians by framing every budget in “tough on terror” versus “soft on terror” terms. They have the perfect products to pitch – products that are designed to destroy themselves and be replaced in an ever-lasting war on terror.

The agencies 

It is not just revolving doors that tie federal agencies to these lobbyists and companies. The war-based economy allows for military and homeland departments to be virtually untouchable. Environmental and social programmes are eliminated or curtailed by billions as war-related budgets continue to expand to meet “new threats”.

A massive counterterrorism system has been created employing tens of thousands of personnel with billions of dollars to search for domestic terrorists.

With the support of an army of lobbyists and companies, cabinet members like former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, are invincible in Washington. When citizens complained of watching their children groped by the TSA, Napolitano defiantly retorted that if people did not want their children groped, they should yield and use the unpopular full-body machines – the machines being sold by her predecessor, Chertoff.

It is not just the Defense and DHS departments that enjoy the war windfall. Take the Department of Justice (DOJ). A massive counterterrorism system has been created employing tens of thousands of personnel with billions of dollars to search for domestic terrorists. The problem has been a comparative shortage of actual terrorists to justify the size of this internal security system.

Accordingly, the DOJ has counted everything from simple immigration cases to credit card fraud as terror cases in a body count approach not seen since the Vietnam War. For example, the DOJ claimed to have busted a major terror-network as part of “Operation Cedar Sweep”, where Lebanese citizens were accused of sending money to terrorists. They were later forced to drop all charges against all 27 defendants as unsupportable. It turned out to be a bunch of simple head shops. Nevertheless, the new internal security system continues to grind on with expanding powers and budgets. A few years ago, the DOJ even changed the definition of terrorism to allow for an ever-widening number of cases to be considered “terror-related”.

Symbiotic relationship

Our economic war-dependence is matched by political war-dependence. Many members represent districts with contractors that supply homeland security needs and our on-going wars.

Even with polls showing that the majority of Americans are opposed to continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new military-industrial complex continues to easily muster the necessary support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. It is a testament to the influence of this alliance that hundreds of billions are being spent in Afghanistan and Iraq while Congress is planning to cut billions from core social programmes, including a possible rollback on Medicare due to lack of money. None of that matters. It doesn’t even matter that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called the US the enemy and said he wishes that he had joined the Taliban. Even the documented billions stolen by government officials in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated as a mere cost of doing business.

It is what Eisenhower described as the “misplaced power” of the military-industrial complex – power that makes public opposition and even thousands of dead soldiers immaterial. War may be hell for some but it is heaven for others in a war-dependent economy.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and has testified in Congress on the massive counter-terrorism budgets and bureaucracy in the United States.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Fears of global oil crisis aired at Transatlantic Energy Security Dialogue. : Jeremy Leggett’s Triple Crunch Log

Fears of global oil crisis aired at Transatlantic Energy Security Dialogue. : Jeremy Leggett’s Triple Crunch Log.

Jeremy Leggett column in Recharge magazine: “We are betting our entire national economic life on the hope — indeed the expectation — that the fracking boom will continue until well into the 2020s, and that, at a rate and cost we desire, significant amounts of ‘yet to be discovered’ oil will somehow be found to meet the demand.”
“If any of that proves incorrect, we have no plan, no alternative, and have given no thought to how we would respond in such a case.”The speaker is national-security expert Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, a veteran of four tours of duty with the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am not a military man, but I worry just as much about the energy security of my own country as he does about his. In the UK, the government, the civil service and most of the big energy companies seem perfectly content to replicate the grand gamble under way in the US.
On 10 December, Lt Col Davis and I convened video-linked gatherings in Washington and London of people who share our concerns about the risk of a global oil crisis. We also invited key people who don’t, but who were interested in probing beyond the propaganda that energy-policy discourse seems to attract these days. [Two powerpoints, and Agenda  / Participants / Transcript of first half are appended below.]
Those joining us included retired military officers, security experts, senior executives from a wide spectrum of industry and politicians of all the main parties, including two former UK ministers.
We began with a presentation by Mark Lewis, a former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank. With this background, you might expect Lewis to be a disciple of the conventional narrative of plenty in oil markets. Many of his peers are. But he suggested that three big warning signs in the oil industry point to a counter-narrative of impending problems for supply: high decline rates, soaring capital expenditure and falling exports.
The decline rates of all conventional crude-oil fields producing today are spectacular; the International Energy Agency projects output falling from 69 million barrels per day (bpd) today to just 28 million bpd in 2035. Current total global production of all types of oil is some 91 million bpd.
Consider the spending needed to try to fill that gap.
Capex for oilfield development and exploration has nearly trebled in real terms since 2000: from $250bn to $700bn in 2012. The industry is spending ever more to prop up production, and its profitability is reflecting this trend, notwithstanding an enduringly high oil price. Meanwhile, consumption is soaring in Opec nations. As a result, global crude-oil exports have been declining since 2005. It is difficult to conflate this data and not see an oil crunch ahead, Lewis concludes.
What of the recent addition of two million bpd of new oil production from American shale: the boom that has even been cast as a “game-changer” and a route to “Saudi America” by industry cheerleaders?
Geological Survey of Canada veteran David Hughes, who has conducted the most detailed analysis of North American shale of anyone outside the oil and gas companies, offered some sobering views on this. His data shows that spectacularly high early decline rates in existing shale gas and shale oil (more correctly known as tight oil) wells means high levels of drilling are needed just to maintain production. This problem is compounded because “sweet spots” become exhausted early in field development.
As a result, shale-gas production is already dropping in several key drilling regions, and production of tight oil in the top two regions is likely to peak as early as 2016 or 2017. These two regions, in Texas and North Dakota, comprise 74% of total US tight-oil production.
Like Lewis, Hughes believes that the oil and gas industry is leading the world by the nose towards an energy crisis.
In my book The Energy of Nations, I describe how military think-tanks have tended to side with those, like Lewis and Hughes, who distrust the cornucopian narrative of the oil incumbency. One 2008 study, by the German army, puts it thus: “Psychological barriers cause indisputable facts to be blanked out and lead to almost instinctively refusing to look into this difficult subject in detail. Peak oil, however, is unavoidable.”
This blanking-out extends to the mainstream media, which has enthusiastically echoed the mantras of the oil companies, to the extent that the very words “peak oil” have been positioned as a badge of baseless scaremongering.
We should never forget that in the run-up to the credit crunch, the financial incumbency deployed exactly the same PR tactics against those warning about the fragility of mortgage-backed securities.

Transatlantic Energy Security Dialogue: Agenda, Participants, Part One discussion edited transcript

The Three Witches: Decline rates, soaring capex, and falling exports. Presentation by Mark Lewis.

The “Shale Revolution”: Myths and Realities. Presentation by David Hughes.

Bangkok to see troop influx for protest – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Bangkok to see troop influx for protest – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

Increased security presence meant to prevent violence in planned “shutdown” of Thai capital by demonstrators.

Thailand has experienced periodic violence since the overthrow of Yingluck’s brother seven years ago [AFP]
Troops will be deployed in the Thai capital next week for the planned “shutdown” of Bangkok by demonstrators trying to overthrow the government.

The government is mobilising 14,880 police and soldiers for the mass rally, officials said on Wednsday.

“Our goal is to prevent any violence or clashes,” national police spokesman Piya Uthayo said in a televised briefing.

Officials say the government is ready to declare a state of emergency if needed to deal with any unrest, following several outbreaks of street violence in which eight people, including a policeman, have been killed and hundreds wounded.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called February elections following weeks of opposition street protests.

Yingluck’s government still enjoys strong support and is expected to win the election if it goes ahead, but demonstrators have vowed to block the vote,and say they will occupy the capital from January 13 until they topple the government.

Worst strife since 2010

Critics say the protesters want to provoke fresh clashes in the hope of triggering a military coup on the pretext of restoring order- an accusation the demonstrators deny.

The demonstrators- primarily southerners,urban elite,middle-class and royalists- want an unelected “people’s council” to run the country.

Thailand has been periodically shaken by political bloodshed since Yingluck’s older brother Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.

The recent civil strife is the worst since 2010, when more than 90 people were killed in a bloody military crackdown on pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protests under the previous government.

Ex-deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban was due in court Wednesday to face a murder indictment over those deaths, but he asked for another postponement because he is leading the current protests.

For Doomsday Cyberattack, China has Options – The Epoch Times

For Doomsday Cyberattack, China has Options – The Epoch Times.

Representatives from the National Security Agency claimed during a Dec. 15 segment on 60 Minutes that the department had foiled a plot by a foreign state—later revealed to be China—to destroy the U.S. economy by attacking the basic systems that allow computers to operate.

Experts and commentators poked fun at the “Dr. Evil” nature of the plot, and questioned its authenticity. Yet, such attacks already exist. The scale at which it could be carried out by China, however, is in question. There may be more efficient ways for Chinese hackers to cripple the United States economy and Internet access in the event of a conflict, experts say. One such massive attack has actually been engineered before.

China’s alleged attack was discussed by heads of the NSA in a Dec. 15 segment on 60 Minutes. It allegedly targeted the BIOS system of computers, which function as the set of instructions to a computer when it is turned on.

“One of our analysts actually saw that the nation state had the intention to develop and to deliver, to actually use this capability—to destroy computers,” Debora Plunkett, who directs cyberdefense at NSA, said on60 Minutes.

The NSA did not say clearly which country was behind the attack, yet 60 Minutes reported that other security experts familiar with the attack confirmed it was China. It said the NSA was able to work with computer manufacturers to prevent the attack.

A Practical Matter

While many security experts question the claim, cyberattacks that target BIOS systems currently exist. BIOS viruses are appealing to hackers because they are almost impossible to detect or remove—even if the user completely erases the contents of the computer.

Jonathan Brossard, CEO of security company Toucan System, demonstrated a BIOS virus at the 2012 Black Hat security conference. He described it as a way to hack computers like a nation-state would.

The core problem with the rumored Chinese attack, however, is not about whether it is possible. It’s about whether the attack is practical.

“There are so many other ways to destroy computers, that aren’t nearly as hard,” Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser at cybersecurity company Sophos, said in a telephone interview from Vancouver.

Networked Destruction

The most practical way to—at least temporarily—destroy the global Internet has already been demonstrated. In April 2010, 15 percent of global Internet traffic suddenly routed itself through China Telecom networks for about 18 minutes.

“Although the Commission has no way to determine what, if anything, Chinese telecommunication firms did to the hijacked data, incidents of this nature could have a number of serious implications,” states a report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission, regarding the 2010 attack.

Affected websites included those belonging to the U.S. government and military.

The incident was caused by what’s called “IP hijacking.” The form of attack targets the highly vulnerable system where Internet Provider (IP) addresses communicate.

Russian hackers had used a similar attack against Estonia in 2007 to cut the country’s communications. Wisniewski said, “What better way to do it than take all their IP addresses and say they belong to someone else, then they can’t talk to anybody anymore.”

Regarding the alleged BIOS attack, Wisniewski said it is feasible for a nation-state to target BIOS systems. Due to the nature of the systems, however, any large-scale attacks would be unnecessarily complicated.

Different types of hardware use different BIOS, and to launch an attack on the scale alleged by the NSA, a hacker would need to customize the attack for potentially thousands of systems.

If the NSA were referring to the BIOS of Internet routers, rather than computers, however, the alleged attack would be more feasible.

Such an attack has already been demonstrated by the NSA itself. Documents stolen by Edward Snowden and leaked on Dec. 31 allege the NSA gained access to the BIOS systems of many routers for spying purposes.

Using the same vulnerabilities, if a hostile nation-state were to even target a sufficiently large number of routers manufactured by Cisco, “basically the entire Internet would fail,” Wisniewski said.

He added, “If that’s what they were warning us about, I’d be concerned.”

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