Third Eye OSINT publishes enlightened commentary on geopolitics. The articles will always reflect a pro-American personal viewpoint, because the author is a loyal citizen of the United States of America. This blog is a wholly-owned project of Alfidi Capital.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" pondered "Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink." That's one of the coolest lines I've ever seen in literature. It's also a cool segue to discussing risks to global stability from a lack of access to potable water. Three fourths of the earth's surface is covered in water but only a small amount is fit for human consumption. That small amount will be subject to competition in the years ahead.
Water supply risk gets a special mention in the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report for 2014. This report cites food and water crises as major risks but does not link them to a water-energy-food nexus that implies tradeoffs and prioritization of efforts. A couple of paragraphs in Box 1.3 on page 15 do not do the topic justice. I find it odd that the report places both water and food in the upper-right quadrant of its global risk matrix but an oil price shock is in the lower left quadrant. It seems to me that an energy price shock in the water-energy-food nexus will almost immediately drive secondary effects in water and food. The vulnerability of water production industrial control systems to cyberattack is another risk the WEF identified separately, even though that can also impact the water-energy-food nexus.
The UN's World Water Development Report (WWDR) will be an annual guide for policymakers once the next edition comes out this year. While we wait for that publication, the UN-Water Analytical Brief from October 2013 expands upon the water-energy-food nexus as a basis for security. The most positive observation in that brief is the recognition of transboundary water management (TWM) commissions where neighboring countries can discuss water management. I am unclear at present whether these commissions can adjudicate disputes as binding arbitrators; I'm guessing that they cannot unless they point to signed UN conventions or other sources of international law. I like that the brief assigns a dollar figure to watershed management in some regions.
My first glance impression, based on the above studies and what I learned at the WorldAffairs 2013 conference last March, is that Pakistan will come under water pressure first and most severely of all the potential crisis regions. Pakistan's water from the Indus River originates in India. Pakistan will face a tradeoff between agriculture and hydropower if it doesn't get enough water for both functions. This will force it to play an increasingly destabilizing game provoking India via Kashmir. India will be tempted to retaliate by extending its influence into Afghanistan as a back-door way to destabilize Pakistan. New Delhi is already preparing this strategic option by extending diplomatic and military overtures to Kabul. India can win a conventional conflict with Pakistan over water access, provided the conflict does not go nuclear and China does not intervene with military force.
The Middle East is a different story. Every major Middle East river is shared by two or more nations and national borders do not coincide with watershed boundaries. Water is more important than oil because it has no substitutes, but the Middle East's vast oil and gas resources enable it to adapt water infrastructure to the region's needs. Water systems present attractive terrorist targets but shared management among regional rivals can be a basis for cooperation that deters state-sponsored groups from attacking infrastructure. The Middle East Desalination Research Center (MEDRC) offers a way forward that is neutral toward infrastructure for delivery, as almost every Middle East nation borders the open sea and most are wealthy enough to afford desalination technology.
Water shortages are relevant to Syria's instability, possibly more so than the Arab Spring. The country's population growth stressed its environment and a multi-year drought from 2006-11 drove millions of rural dwellers into food insecurity and urban migration. The Assad regime subsidized water-intensive crops, favoring inefficient techniques (i.e., flooding over precision irrigation) that overdrew groundwater.
Secretary Mabus mentioned that biofuel has a higher octane rating than petroleum-based fuel. He did not mention the specific composition of fuel the Navy was using in its Great Green Fleet so I don't know whether he meant E85 or some other blend. I like that the name of this technology demonstration invokes the Great White Fleet's demonstration of US power projection during its rise as a world power. He also mentioned an experimental underwater autonomous vehicle that can make its own fuel from ocean water and sea floor biomass, giving it the ability to stay at sea indefinitely. These two projects together may greatly reduce the need for US Navy ships to receive underway replenishment (UNREP). The freedom of maneuver this will grant a naval force is phenomenal because ships can spend more time on station and can avoid port visits that increase security vulnerabilities.
Secretary Mabus mentioned a security premium that oil traders include when submitting orders for oil contracts. This premium plays havoc with the Navy's budget by forcing it to divert O&M funds to unbudgeted fuel costs. The premium's volatility increases with instability anywhere among oil-producing regions, even when minor producers (like Syria, which sells very little oil to the West) experience instability. Resources For the Future (RFF) published a study in 2010 indicating how increased US domestic oil production dampens the price shocks from instability, but overall reductions in oil consumption do more to enhance security than source substitution. That study built on work the authors did for Stanford University's Energy Modeling Forum in 2009 when they examined a method for estimating the US oil price premium. This research is an argument in favor of more biofuel production, which comes with its own premium as I noted above.
More audiences outside the US need to hear what Secretary Mabus said about how US hegemony enables freedom of navigation through the world's sea lanes and around crucial choke points. The US State Department outlines the US freedom of navigation (FON) program but does not mention the US's refusal to sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which degrades our ability to defend US commercial claims at sea. The USDOE EIA's World Oil Transit Choke Points show where the US Navy's presence does the most good for the world economy. Petroleum shipping would be far more hazardous without the Navy on duty. Shipping oil across the English Channel during World War II was hazardous due to German Luftwaffe attacks. The Allies had to build Operation Pluto's cross-channel pipeline to keep oil flowing to US and British forces on the continent. Undersea pipelines are practical in some areas, such as the Langeled pipeline from Norway to Great Britain, but they face economic and technical limits over long distances.
It was interesting to hear the Secretary mention vessel mission planning as a fuel cost reduction method. Prevailing currents deserve consideration for programmed routes of known length and duration, and commercial shipping lines are correct to pay their captains some incentive bonus to save fuel costs by using old-school knowledge of currents and wind. This is good for the Navy in peacetime when tour routes are known but wartime cruises will be mission-dictated. Commercial shippers also sometimes mount a large hard sail on a ship's bow so prevailing winds can reduce steaming costs. That won't work on a modern Navy ship as it would interfere with systems for guidance and fire control. Even the best ideas have limits.
The renewable energy push has begun to permeate all of DOD. DLA Energy addresses multiple energy needs for its DOD customers but I did not see them listed as participants in the Defense Energy Summit for 2013 or the Defense Energy Technology Challenge for 2013. I know from personal experience that DLA has tasked analysts to assess the national security impact of resource shortfalls. I hope DLA is part of the US government's renewable energy effort, but hope is not a method.
World shipping needs the US Navy, and the Navy needs energy. More renewable energy means more freedom of maneuver for the Navy. More demand from government purchase requirements leads to more industry capacity and more opportunities for green businesses. Contractors seeking government opportunities in smart grids, microgrids, and net-zero facilities should review the EPA's green regulation initiatives and the SBA's green business guide. There's money to be made in selling to Uncle Sam.
I read with interest Andrew Bacevich's recent article "One Percent Republic." I compared it to the notes I took when David M. Kennedy presented The Modern American Military at the Commonwealth Club last year. Both Prof. Kennedy and Col. Bacevich accurately describe America's relationship with its citizen-soldiers after more than a decade of war against Islamic radicalism. The Bacevich article could read very well as the follow-up to the Kennedy anthology. Modern describes how the all-volunteer force allows the US to conduct war with reduced accountability to the American people, and "One Percent" describes the resulting alienation of the American people from their military.
Kennedy, in his talk, contrasted the high ratio of general officers whose children serve in uniform with the low ratio of Congress members whose children serve. Anecdotally, I have observed a high degree of multigenerational service among officers below flag rank. The Society of the Cincinnati and other hereditary orders are the closest thing the United States has to an aristocratic nobility. I used to wonder whether those officers fortunate enough to perform duty in and around the Military District of Washington were able to leverage any hereditary connections during their careers. There's even a Hereditary Society Community to keep track of all these hereditary societies. I looked at the pictures of their annual reception . . . held in Washington DC, of course. Pedigree matters in America. Trace your lineage to a hero of our past wars and you get invited to high tea with people who don't have to fight in our current wars. God bless America.
American expeditionary deployments have indeed increased dramatically since the all-volunteer force came into being after the Vietnam War, as Kennedy noted. Americans are simply no longer interested in being accountable for war. It's just another spectator sport providing amusement to a passive public. This fulfills the prophecy Samuel Huntington made in The Soldier and the State in the 1950s that the American people would become more traditionally conservative in their tolerance of a large defense establishment. Little did he realize just how conservative they would become. American "conservatism" today primarily conserves Wall Street's grasping ethic and the middle class' unfunded entitlements. Its liberal opposite is more like a Siamese twin, conserving and expanding every benefit program that progressive academics dreamed up. TR Fehrenbach described in This Kind of War how liberals and conservatives checked each other's power and informed each other's ideas constructively during WWII and the early days of the Cold War. The balanced dynamic has given way to a Janus-faced pantomime of difference, regardless of partisan noises.
Americans could write the next chapter in their history but they now prefer it to be ghostwritten. Watching reality TV is more compelling. Americans want handouts and our plutocrats know how to keep us pacified. A people who lose interest in the burden of self-governance invite the entrance of actors who will lift the burden from their shrugging shoulders. Bacevich notes the entrenchment of wealth at the apex of society, and Kennedy notes the military establishment's freedom of action in crafting policy. We will soon see whether plutocracy and stratocracy can co-exist in America. The Founding Fathers' own aristocratic pretensions often go unnoticed, and they intended the Electoral College to represent the nation's most enlightened beings. This new elitist phenomenon isn't all that new anyway. Generation X has a saying for all this . . "whatever."
Nota bene: This article is dedicated to the memory of TR Fehrenbach, who passed away last month at the age of 88. His passing received little note in news media. I will never forget reading This Kind of War while on active duty in South Korea in 1995.