Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 12/17/13

Afghan endurance
Stay to fight terrorism
Grow your beard longer

Hidden Narratives in Afghanistan

Critics of the US/NATO mission in Afghanistan point to unintended consequences of military actions.  Their objections have merit if substantiating evidence exists.

One commonly heard allegation is that many attacks on US forces are the result of ordinary Afghans' frustrations with humiliating raids and cultural offenses.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made much of these claims and insisted that the US-Afghan security pact include severe restrictions on such raids.  The fact that the US agreed to this restriction shows that its basis has merit.  International news media reports of US troops raiding hospitals do not help America's image.  The rationale for Afghan forces' attacks on their international allies is difficult to pin down.  Analysis reveals a mix of cultural misunderstandings that escalate into perceived offenses, triggering many attacks.  If the most likely attackers are ethnic Pashtuns recruited into Afghan forces from border regions with Pakistan, US forces should focus fratricide prevention efforts on that specific population.

Drone strikes have been a continual point of contention between the US and its Af-Pak partners.  A drone is only as accurate as the intelligence feeding its controller.  Local sources who report faulty information on an HVT's whereabouts may be using US firepower to settle personal scores.  The pending force drawdown will severely limit the number of reliable sources US forces can successfully cultivate.

Human Rights Watch noted in 2001 that combatants employed landmines in Afghanistan long before US forces arrived.  Much of rural Afghanistan still contains mines that kill and main civilians.  The international community does its part to remove landmine hazards through the Halo Trust's de-mining efforts and other organizations.  The US should include funding for de-mining programs as part of its continued US support to Afghan rural development.

The predominant media narrative for the US intervention in Afghanistan is one of misunderstanding, miscalculation, and missed opportunities.  The US's enduring presence in Afghanistan must begin to tell a new narrative in 2014.  The story should lead with something other than interjections into tribal conflict.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Value of International Food Security

Food security matters.  Maslow's hierarchy of needs puts the human requirement for food right on the bottom as a fundamental prerequisite for pursuing everything else.  Spiraling prices for food staples were one major reason the Arab Spring spread so quickly among disaffected populations that had dissimilar ethnographies.

CGIAR and IFPRI are creating the theoretical framework for policy innovation in food security.  The USDA's Economic Research Service has long published a Food Security Assessment with years of data to support policy.  This year's First International Conference on Global Food Security shouldn't be so quick to style its work as unprecedented, if only they'd look up the history of the World Food Summit.  The UN's World Food Programme and USAID's Bureau of Food Security often do the heavy lifting of underwriting relief and investment in emerging nations that lack food security.  The G-20's Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) is putting the developed world's money to work in food aid.  There's a lot of money in play creating demand for innovative food solutions.

Intrepid entrepreneurs are trying to monetize food security.  The International Food Security Fund is an effort to create private sector demand for food security solutions.  I'm disappointed that its documentation is only viewable behind a login portal.  The Global Food Exchange has publicly available information on its relief vault product.  I understand the demand for commodities as relief goods but I don't understand the purpose of creating an exchange to support the pricing of prepackaged modules.  The modules themselves are good ways to organize relief shipments but relief agencies may balk at relying upon a single source for relief supplies.  The cost of physical storage and an illiquid exchange add a markup to the price relief agencies must pay.

Big Data and drones may do more for food security than any high-minded relief effort if they allow small farmers to optimize production.  Food security and water security are inseparable.  The market for food and water is as large as the world's population.  Third Eye OSINT will have more to say about the potential for instability from food and water scarcity.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 11/28/13

Iran agreement
Does not curtail nuke program
Diplomatic fail

World Affairs Council Recognizes Anthony Alfidi as Featured Member

There's no more appropriate way for me to celebrate Thanksgiving Day than to engage in shameless self-promotion.  The World Affairs Council of Northern California has recognized me as a Featured Member.  I have been very active in WAC events since they accepted me as a Veteran Fellow earlier this year at WorldAffairs 2013.  Read the summary of that conference I published here at Third Eye OSINT.  Check out this photo of me in action hosting a breakfast table during WorldAffairs 2013.

I don't know how long that Featured Member page will remain active so I'm reproducing the text below.  I contributed those answers myself and I'm confident the WAC will appreciate the publicity I'm sending their way.  I certainly appreciate the publicity they're giving me.

How long have you been a member?

I have been an active member since March 2013, although I did try a one-year membership in the Young Professionals Forum (now called Next Generation) from 2005-06.

What first drew you to the World Affairs Council?

I was a member of the first-ever class of Veteran Fellows at WorldAffairs 2013.  I wrote about my incredible experience on my blog Third Eye OSINT.

The speaker lineup was superb. I finished the conference determined to get the most out of Council membership and to be a speaker at a Council event someday.

What was your favorite lecture/speaker/event at the Council?

Somaly Mam! Hearing her speak about her efforts to mitigate human trafficking proved that the business community has a role to play in treating people fairly in developing nations. She has incredible courage and is the ultimate success story.

How has the World Affairs Council inspired you?

I have been a US Army officer for almost two decades, with significant time in Iraq and other countries. Military campaigns must comport with knowledge of geography, history, socioeconomic factors, and cultural specifics to fulfill our nation's strategy. The World Affairs Council has inspired me to make deep background research a priority in strategic planning. I am further inspired to seek membership in the Council on Foreign Relations and the Pacific Council on International Policy to contribute a military analyst's perspective to high-level policy dialogue.

If you could create your own tagline for the Council, what would it be?

“The World Affairs Council brings leaders in diplomacy, development, conflict, and governance to San Francisco from every spot on the globe.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 11/12/13

Al-Qaeda network
Running drugs in the Maghreb
Narco-terror link

BRICS Offer Hollow Talk On Development Bank And Reinsurance

It's hard to say just what the BRICS are all about.  They share no common culture or language.  They mostly have scarce natural resources with the exception of Russia's hydrocarbons, South Africa's minerals, and China's hydroelectricity.  They compensate for their differences by finding things to do together, proudly stating to the world they they do not subscribe to the Anglo-American financial hegemony . . . except of course when it's absolutely necessary.

The BRICS have proposed to create their own BRICS Development Bank.  They are not ready to launch it because they have not funded its contingent reserve, which would require them all to liquidate sufficient US dollar holdings.  Selling US$100B worth of Treasuries is no small task and would not escape the currency markets' attention.  It remains to be seen whether the reserve will be a mix of the participants' currencies or some instrument resembling the IMF's Special Drawing Rights.

They also seek to establish their own transnational reinsurance firm.  I believe the public stance that it will serve to underwrite infrastructure investments is only one rationale.  The reinsurance firm and development bank together could theoretically send transaction confirmations that will not be subject to US interdiction through its control of the SWIFT network.  This alternative financial regime would be one way to avoid punitive sanctions against the BRICS' trading partners.  Setting up an alternative communication network means designing protocols for encryption, transmission, and storage that the NSA cannot penetrate.  No alternative financial hegemony can emerge until the BRICS own a secure network.

The BRICS are not ready for prime time as a geopolitical bloc.  This is not to say they cannot eventually emerge as an alternative to the US-led Atlantic alliance but consensus will be difficult with no clearly dominant power.  They have difficulty coordinating policy because they do not share common cultures, borders, or history.  Contrast this with US leadership during the Cold War.  Its economic strength enabled it to control institutions like the IMF and World Bank that could enforce international norms.  The BRICS bloc is about as coordinated and purposeful as the Non-Aligned Movement in the Cold War, and it's proving to be just as ineffective.  They should stick to their original use as an acronym among Goldman Sachs' research ideas.  

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 08/31/13

Kim Jong-Un's envy
Rich ROK healthy "mi-guk" tie
"Juche" cannot win

US-South Korea Ties Leave North Korea In The Dust

The US and South Korea get along like old pals.  The US-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) has been active for over a year.  The ROK's US embassy actively promotes US-ROK business ties under the KORUS FTA through US Korea Connect.  The Korea Economic Institute of America lobbies in the US on behalf of the South Korean government's economic initiatives.  This is a more mature approach to influence than the Koreagate troubles of past decades.  I reviewed OECD StatExtracts on FDI flows by partner country.  It's surprising to note that Korea's FDI in the US was US$6.2B in 2011 while the US's FDI in South Korea was $US1.6B.

The US and South Korea are on the same sheet of music diplomatically.  They oppose North Korea's nuclear development and the Kim dynasty's placement of its self-interest ahead of the welfare of the North Korean people.  North Korea detains about 1% of its population in concentration camps.  The US and South Korea do not punish political dissent with imprisonment or forced labor.

North Korea envies the attention the US lavishes on its healthier twin to the south.  That's why it lashes out with military provocations and drags out even the simplest diplomatic issues for months.  The US-DPRK "New York" channel has been dormant for months because North Korea has nothing new to offer.  The Kim regime likes to imprison some random missionary when it needs attention but delays release negotiations to extort for foreign aid.

Asians can take responsibility for their own security once they outgrow what ROK President Park Gyun-Hye calls the "Asian paradox" where political cooperation has not kept pace with economic integration.  The US will remain engaged in inter-Korean relations until Asian powers resolve that paradox.  They can begin such resolution by working on matters unrelated to North Korea's problems.  Start with climate change and disaster relief.

The Kim regime in the North makes lots of bombastic threats.  It has little to show for decades of hostility to its neighbors and paranoia.  This satirically dubbed video of "Pyongyang Traffic Girls From The Sky" may be all the North can muster as a threat.  I wouldn't mind seeing hot chicks drop out the sky if they were friendly.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Poised For Syria

The world waits for something to happen in Syria in response to an alleged atrocity, although forensic analysis of the scene in question is not complete as of this writing.  The general outlines of the geopolitical drivers are pretty obvious.

Western media already announced the general targets in open sources, giving the Syrians time to clear out.  The destruction of the presumed targets will not hamper the Assad regime's campaign against the Islamic rebels.  Indeed, replacing the destroyed systems with new Russian equipment fulfills that country's support contract with Syria, throwing Moscow a bone if it elects not to escalate.  Note Moscow's muted response; Putin has not announced countermeasures but merely shakes his head diplomatically.  The end result is that the Assad regime continues to its likely victory over Islamic radicals and the US satisfies world opinion that it "did something."

The primary concern now is drawing the correct parallel with history.  If the Kosovo Air Campaign is a template, any strike will be over in a fortnight.  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cool OSINT Tools on Arms and Freedom

I've checked out a few more analytical tools for my bag of tricks.  These links are cool because they help me understand the world we live in today.  They appear in the Intelligence Links in the column on the right-hand side of this blog.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute tracks military spending and arms shipments worldwide.  Check out their database links.  They even track subnational groups.  I plan to use this site to cross-reference military spending with other categories of military activity to see which country's military gets the most bang for the buck when influencing world affairs.

Reporters Without Borders publishes the Press Freedom Index that ranks countries by how much they respect their fourth estate (read up on the legacy of the French Revolution of you need that term defined).  I'm disappointed that the US is ranked #32 in 2013.  I'm doing my part to move the needle higher by blogging as much as possible in honor of the First Amendment.

The Economist Intelligence Unit publishes a bunch of good stuff, but their annual Democracy Index just plain rocks.  A lot of EIU's services cost serious bucks but the Democracy Index is free.  I like freebies.  I don't like paying for other things I can get for free just by searching the web.

Big Data isn't just for big corporations.  Anyone in free societies can use it to make better policy and hold governments accountable for their actions.  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 07/20/13

Turkey on the brink
Islamist faction rising
Second Caliphate

Turkey's Identity Crisis On The Brink

Turkey is clearly at a cultural crossroads.  On one hand, its political elite has clearly moved the country in a more Islamic direction and taken steps to mute the military's role as guardian of the government's secular orientation.  On the other hand, the recent demonstrations against development of Taksim Gezi Park reveal that a remnant of the society is not willing to go peacefully into an ultra-conservative future.

Modern Turkey had all of the outward trappings of a tolerant society and reliable Western security partner throughout the second half of the 20th century.  Turkey has sought EU membership for over a quarter-century.  The Erdogan government's embrace of conservative moral codes that align explicitly with Islam jeopardize its pursuit of that membership.  Turkey even developed security ties with Israel; it threw that productive relationship away with tacit support for Gaza blockade runners.  Turkish-Israeli reconciliation is still a possibility, and unofficial cooperation against common threats (Syria, Iran) is always a possibility.

The reconstruction plans for the park involve erecting a shopping mall modeled after the Halil Pasha Artillery Barracks.  This is more than a post-modern tribute to Turkey's Ottoman past.  Every major policy initiative of the Erdogan government, from its stance on public morals to its support for anti-Assad rebels in Syria, is a step towards Turkey's reassertion of its pre-Ataturk identity as the center of the Caliphate.  Turkey's political elite is ready to embrace Islam and regional interventionism and is willing to drag its secular professionals along for the ride.  The national identity crisis is ready for resolution, one way or the other.

The Erdogan government's forceful handling of the protestors has not yet carried the day for order.  It remains to be seen just how much of Istanbul's educated, secular middle class will continue to suspend their economic lives and risk arrest or injury.  Sustained popular uprisings usually begin with widespread labor or bourgeoisie economic grievances in provincial areas and eventually encroach upon a national capital.  These protestors have cultural grievances but are economically secure.  There is some evidence their protests are spreading to the rest of Turkey.  Arab Spring protestors wanted cheaper food staples and more jobs.  This protest has little in common with the Arab Spring.  Turkey ranks higher than the world average on the Heritage Index and Turkey's GDP growth in recent years has been very healthy, although FDI is dropping precipitously and inflation is rising.

Erdogan's statesmanship on peacefully resolving the Kurdish issue has probably endeared him to many Turks who are weary of years of unrest.  Turkey's international standing and internal business climate will be enhanced by stability in its Kurdish regions, park protests notwithstanding.  Secular Turks outside Istanbul would be hard-pressed to ignore this significant diplomatic progress just to continue sympathizing with protestors.

The protestors in Istanbul have a limited window of opportunity to make their case for moderation to the rest of Turkey's secular middle class.  The Erdogan government has demonstrated its willingness to disperse the protestors and the rest of Turkey probably won't mind so long as the economy delivers prosperity.  The race between worsening economic data and a government determined to bring order is still on.  The Erdogan government can make non-fatal concessions on cultural issues that would address several of the capital protestors' grievances and split much of the national opposition.  That may be enough to calm things down without a hard crackdown that would further damage the economy.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Infectious Disease Preparedness for Cheap Countries

Pandemics are problems for nation-state legitimacy.  Strong states with mature public health programs can handle them well.  Weak states distracted by poverty, illiteracy, environmental degradation, social unrest, and insurgencies could destabilize or even disintegrate in the face of a pandemic.  States need early warning systems for disease outbreaks and road maps for consequence management.

Early warning systems already exist.  CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) is a model for national organization of medical threat data.  WHO's Global Alert and Response (GAR) Disease Outbreak News (DONs) is free for any national health service to use as a monitoring tool.

The US already leads the way in pandemic mitigation.  The US National Intelligence Council published National Intelligence Estimate 99-17D, The Global Infectious Disease Threat and Its Implications for the United States in January 2000.  Analysis is the foundation for action.  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed up with its publication Protecting the Nation's Health in an Era of Globalization:  CDC's Global Infectious Disease Strategy in 2002.  Wealthy countries with strong central states can afford to make detailed plans.  Poorer countries are at a disadvantage but all is not lost.  Developing countries can follow the US's lead.

The US has been generous enough to suggest optimal funding levels and project directions for global health programs.  NIH published The Impact of Globalization on Infectious Disease Emergence and Control via the National Academies Press.  Developing countries that are too cheap to pay the $45 for a hard copy are welcome to download the PDF for free from the NIH's NCBI.  The opportunity cost of inaction is huge, as outlined in EMBO's "Pricing infectious disease." 

Weak states have all of these free resources courtesy of Uncle Sam.  Use them before the next sequester hits federal spending.  Poverty is no excuse for unpreparedness if developing countries wish to avoid destabilizing pandemics.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 07/10/13

Power Africa
So many small agencies
Doing the same work

Uncle Sam's Proliferating Development Agencies Will "Power Africa"

I have read the fact sheet on Power Africa, the Administration's new effort to bring economic development to a long-neglected part of the world.  I am totally in favor of a smart US development effort in Africa to counter China's huge influence.  Power Africa is interagency and leverages the private sector; so far so good.  Reading the list of agencies involved has started to make me wonder how the US got so many.

US Agency for International Development (USAID):  This is the oldest official home for foreign aid in the US Government and used to be part of the State Department.  I never understood why it was carved out into a separate agency.  The Executive Office of the President and National Security Council have a span of control that is not infinitely wide.  Every separate agency complicates Cabinet-level accountability, appropriations, reporting, auditing, you name it.  If I could wave a magic wand over Washington DC, I'd put USAID back in State so the White House can more easily pin the rose on a lead agency for an interagency development project.

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC):  This one's been around a while too.  I'm assuming it's involved to reduce the cost of capital for those private companies named as participants in Power Africa. The one private participant that doesn't need any more such breaks is General Electric.  Its GE Capital unit has been tagged "systemically important" and will not be allowed to fail anyway.

U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im):  I'm glad this one is on board but I'd prefer that it target its help to small and medium-size US businesses that want to export to Africa.  The named businesses are all heavy hitters.  Smaller businesses need to attend the Corporate Council on Africa's 9th Biennial US-Africa Business Summit this coming October so they know how to open doors over there.

Millennium Challenge Corporation:  This one is the youngest of the agencies, less than a decade old and designed exclusively to fight poverty.  I just don't understand why it's not part of USAID.  It has the same mission!

US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA):  Here's another miscellaneous independent agency that does the same thing as OPIC and Ex-Im!  It needs to be merged with one of those agencies.

US African Development Foundation (USADF):  Wow, here's another one I've never heard of until now.    It's been around for three decades and now has a clear role to play thanks to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).  It's nice to conceive of these kinds of agencies as entrepreneurial because of their small size and limited oversight, but I just wonder how many others are out there and whether they duplicate something a larger agency does.

BTW, I've also never heard of Africa Finance Corporation but it's in this project too.  They must be the most reputable local partner Uncle Sam could find.  Its multilateral nature means Africans can handle African affairs quite well.

I want Power Africa to succeed.  I also want its enabling agencies to support their private sector partners effectively.  IMHO that will require, at some point, a review of whether some of the federal executive agencies involved are duplicative and need to be merged.  That in itself would set a good example for our African partners who look to the US as a model of transparency and efficiency.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 07/06/13

Trade diplomacy
Many programs and meetings
Ask who profited

Effectiveness of State Department Business Initiatives

The US government makes an earnest effort to reach out to potential enablers of our country's strategic interests.  The Department of State has multiple organs that support this effort.  The Office of Commercial and Business Affairs has a role to play in developing business contacts overseas.  Given the broad scope of its mission, I wonder how the office measures its effectiveness.

The CBA is charged with supporting the President's National Export Initiative.  I analyzed the results of the US's export strategy in March 2013.  Whatever the CBA plans to do to push exports needs to be done at an accelerated pace.  The CBA also runs plenty of entrepreneurial programs but it's important to evaluate them on valid business metrics.  The OPIC and Ex-Im Bank have dollar-based metrics to gauge the success of their investments.  CBA needs more than just a roster of participants in its Global Entrepreneurship Program's delegations and summits.

I also wonder about the effectiveness of small outreach efforts that partner with DOS.  Business for Diplomatic Action (parent of the World Citizens Guide) closed in 2010 but played a leading role in partnering with DOS on programs such as an exchange program that benefited exactly 28 non-US entrepreneurs.  I'd like to compare this achievement to the workload of a typical big-city SBA office that helps hundreds of entrepreneurs each year.  I just don't have the data.  This is all food for thought.

I do not have a firm grasp of how well DOS integrates its commercial support mission with other federal agencies.  If DOS targets its commercial outreach efforts in support of goals outlined in the National Security Strategy for 2010, then policymakers will know those programs are at least headed in the correct direction.

BTW, those Americans who wish to engage in their own entrepreneurial diplomacy have plenty of options.  The US Center for Citizen Diplomacy has a searchable database of international affairs organizations that accept volunteers.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Arctic Is Open For Business

Adm. Gary Roughead (USN Ret.) spoke at WAC NorCal about the opening of the Arctic Ocean to exploration and commercialization.  You don't have to believe in anthropogenic global warming to know that new sealanes open up some pretty hard-to-reach areas (sort of like that corner of your bathroom, only colder).  My synopsis of his talk will include my usual pithy observations.

Dutch Harbor, Alaska is the Arctic's only deepwater port.  That gives the US a huge strategic advantage.  It is separated from the mainland of North America by water, so its strategic value does not lie in any land connections to transportation infrastructure that can facilitate trade.  It is probably the best location right now for stationing emergency crews that will be on call in the event any trans-Arctic ships issue distress calls.  Communication is very difficult above 74 degrees north latitude, so ships and drill platforms will have to be hardened to withstand Arctic conditions.  The city of Unalaska's development plan for the port runs through 2019 but doesn't include any expansion plans to accommodate oil exploration ships or rigs.  Those assets will have to go elsewhere, like the Valdez Marine Terminal.  The bottom line is that Alaska can expect a major infrastructure boom to support the US's Arctic presence.  Shipbuilders can also expect a small boom in special orders for Arctic oil platforms and service ships with de-icing capabilities, special ventilation systems, and other features.

I knew about methane hydrates before I heard Adm. Roughead talk.  It's frozen natural gas, folks.  There's plenty of it in the Arctic.  Melting permafrost triggers the release of melting methane hydrates into the atmosphere.  It's too bad all that melting is disrupting built-up infrastructure and possibly contributing to global warming.  Maybe we can counter it by convincing Alaskans not to pass so much gas themselves.  Nah, forget it.

The real solution to Arctic problems will be found in cooperation from the Arctic nations.  The Arctic Council gathers those nations that border the Arctic and those whose ships transit the region.  The International Maritime Organization is developing a Polar Code for ship safety.  The US is jeopardizing its ability to adjudicate any sovereign claims to its energy-rich Arctic continental shelf by not being a signatory to  the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  American critics who object to the treaty are clueless about the leverage we're forgoing.  America's cluelessness continues with our inability to deploy icebreakers.  The US Coast Guard has one icebreaking vessel available and one more coming on line, while Russia has 43 in its national fleet.  I think the other Arctic Council nations are laughing at us.

The Admiral's talk helps me put recent news in context.  Exxon Mobil and Rosneft have agreed to operate an arctic research center.  They've made several joint agreements in recent years, so this points to an obvious trend of Russian-American cooperation in opening the Arctic.  They need to think about oil spill responses before they drill.  Oil spills behave differently in icy waters.  Adm. Roughead noted that Prudhoe Bay oil throughput is declining and the bay will need further infrastructure development to extend its life, probably requiring the reconstitution of much of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.  Relax, folks, Exxon Mobil and Rosneft will likely be first in line with bids for that work.

Here's my suggestion for further cooperation.  USPACOM's RIMPAC brings many navies together for joint maneuvers.  I'd like to see an Arctic version of RIMPAC with US, Russian, and Canadian forces working together on icebreaking and rescue missions.  No country can do this alone.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Kudos to Somaly Mam for Liberating Women

Somaly Mam is a legendary human rights worker who shared her experiences with a capacity audience at WAC NorCal this month.  She spoke plainly and from the heart about her work.  Her namesake Somaly Mam Foundation does great work in helping oppressed women escape from captivity.  The International Museum of Women and the Vital Voices Global Partnership helped get her message out.

Today is Fathers' Day in the US, which is an appropriate reason to comment on Ms. Mam's message.  She noted that anti-trafficking programs tend to demonize men, but both genders need to be educated on how to stop trafficking.  Volunteers at her centers in Cambodia teach women skills that will help them escape from trafficking.

Her talk got me thinking about whether captive women would benefit from mobile connectivity to the outside world.  I suspect that Westerners assume that digital technology hasn't penetrated developing nations' rural areas.  That may be incorrect.  The World Bank estimates that mobile phone coverage reaches three quarters of the world's population.  The UN Development Programme has a plan to use mobile technology to accelerate its Millennium Development Goals.  Any non-profit that seeks to reach an underprivileged captive audience would do well to write apps that their beneficiaries can use.  The problem facing women in captive situations is that their captors may confiscate their mobile devices.  I don't have a good answer to that problem.  Perhaps non-profit app writers could encrypt their apps to avoid the captor's detection.

Ms. Mam reports that multinational corporations are getting better at monitoring their supply chains to ensure subcontractors don't engage in human trafficking.  The hospitality industry has developed protocols to ensure franchises in developing countries aren't used for illicit activity.  Unfortunately, human trafficking is also a problem here in the United States.  A web search reveals just how much attention various government agencies give this serious problem.  The US State Department staffs a monitoring office and chairs a Presidential interagency task force.  The FBI investigates human smuggling.  DHS tracks human traffickers and protects their victims.  ICE has tools to track human trafficking as it crosses our borders.  This campaign is a demonstration of American values that the world needs to hear about more often.

Somaly Mam is a modern hero for her tireless work.  Human trafficking is a criminal effort facilitated by the same outlaw groups that distribute narcotics and black-market weaponry.  The rest of the world has a lot more work to do to stop human trafficking.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Brief Note on Intelligence Collection Under FISA

Ignore the hype of some very recent news reports.  Focus on the facts.

The DNI has published a very helpful summary of what the intelligence community (IC) does to collect from  electronic sources.  All of those procedures are in compliance with statutes such as FISA.  Much of this capability has been disclosed for a long time in public media and in well-written books like James Bamford's The Puzzle Palace.  The only people who feel shocked by revelations of routine procedures are people with short attention spans.

The correct way to seek publication of sensitive information is to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to a federal government agency.  Analysts and managers can then thoroughly review records to ensure disclosure does not harm America's national interests.  Any deviation from this path undermines the rule of law and subjects American national interests to compromise from our adversaries.  I have used the FOIA process myself in one case not related to any classified information, but bearing on misconduct and fraud.  My colleague successfully obtained a FOIA release in that case that we could use in public.

I do not believe that low-level technicians who make unauthorized disclosures of restricted information deserve to be hailed as heroes or whistleblowers.  An entry-level system administrator does not have any business whatsoever deciding whether classified information is fit for release to the public.

Addendum:  One would think that federal employees concerned with justice would first turn to their supervisory chain and then to internal channels such as the federal government's various inspector generals.  None of the recent crop of so-called "heroic whistleblowers" seem to have made use of the DOD Whistleblower Program or the IGs within the intelligence community.  Perhaps further inquiries through the judicial process will uncover whether any headline-grabbing loudmouths used these channels.  I have no sympathy for people whose reckless disclosures violate federal laws and security protocols.  Such unauthorized disclosures place American lives at severe risk.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Reducing Nuclear Weapons Presents Several Opportunities

Amb. Steven Pifer spoke at the World Affairs Council about reducing nuclear weapons.  His work at the Brookings Institution Arms Control Initiative advocates further reductions in the US and Russian nuclear arsenals, and he even thinks the world can get to zero nuclear weapons.  He is not alone in this opinion.  Luminaries have lined up behind the Global Zero movement to make it happen.

Amb. Pifer's talk at WAC NorCal revealed some "inside baseball" on arms control that I've never heard before.  Arms control has matured beyond considering the "throw weight" of multi-warhead delivery systems whose warheads may have different yields.  Official math counts a bomber as a single delivery system and the limits on their deployment are not as firm as rules for ICBMs.  Bombers have a flight time to target of 8-10 hours, so limits on their numbers are flexible because they can be recalled in flight.  The US is confident that its "national technical means" can locate most of our competitors' ICBMs and the FAS Nuclear Information Project has good unclassified estimates of warhead counts.  Tactical and "surplus strategic" warheads are kept in storage; they are not loaded on deployed systems.  The US military maintains one reserve warhead for every one deployed.  

I'm intrigued by the ambassador's proposal for a joint NATO/Russia cooperative missile defense.  This would coordinate two independent systems through a joint operations center.  The rationale for cooperation is that radars on Russian territory have the best view of Iran.  Sharing data would make NATO and Russia seem less like adversaries and more like allies, sending a tremendous positive message to Russia.  Amb. Pifer has written that the US's restructuring of its BMD plan for Europe opens the door for Moscow to cooperate.  

He noted further at the WAC NorCal talk that if Iran achieves full nuclear capability, Pakistan would be immediately prompted to arm Saudi Arabia with nukes.  A strike by the US or Israel would only delay Iran's nuke program.  It would stop all IAEA inspection visits to Iran and the world would lose access to the country's data.  The IAEA's access to their data now has led to the conclusion that Iran cannot enrich uranium at this time.  I'll observe that the ancient Arab-Persia rivalry cannot be contained if both sides own nukes.  I am not at all confident that leaders in Riyadh and Tehran are as rational as the Cold War strategists in Washington and Moscow.  Nuclear arms control in the Middle East means prevention of proliferation.  I'll endorse the ambassador's NATO/Russia cooperative idea.  

I believe there is precedent for the US and Russia to open their military networks in such a cooperative way. The US and Russia opened joint video monitoring centers in December 1999 to gain visibility of each others' nuclear power plants in advance of any Y2K problems.  The US and Russia also jointly staffed each others' nuclear warfighting command centers on New Year's Eve 1999 as a human fail-safe assurance against systems failures.  DOD guidance on establishing the Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability (CY2KSS) needs to be dusted off and reused for cooperative missile defense.  I was on duty that evening too, at one of the US Forces Korea secure command centers in the Republic of Korea.    My small contribution to Y2K assurance was to ensure our own C4ISR systems were running through the midnight hour as 1999 became 2000.  

I say get the JASON advisory group involved in getting nukes to zero.  They need something to do or else they might get careless and knock over some beakers by accident.  I'd love to help but I'm not qualified.  I predict that the NATO/Russia cooperative missile defense joint operations center will be a windfall for folks in Eastern Europe, or wherever it stands up.  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 06/06/13

Stabilize conflict
Interagency effort
Use DIME for the win

Amb. Rick Barton's CSO Bridges DIME Interagency Gaps

Ambassador Rick Barton brought his experiences with the State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) to the World Affairs Council last month.  I've heard the military talk about its role in DIME (diplomatic, information, military, economic) interagency projects plenty of times.  I had to hear what Foggy Bottom does on the team.

Amb. Barton laid out the origin of CSO in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review that articulated a need for a government entity to bring a cross-disciplinary focus to country studies.  Syria, Kenya, Burma, and Honduras have been this agency's trial by fire.  The US can't work directly in Syria so CSO trained refugees who made it to neighboring countries.  CSO discovered that most of the US's $800M in aid to Kenya went to anti-AIDS programs rather than to counter the election violence tearing up the place.  CSO thus shifted the US focus in Kenya to broad governance support.  Burma suffers from tough ethnic conflicts and a fragile peace process, but countering land mines is one problem every party wants to solve.  CSO worked on getting support for de-mining from several factions.  Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, so CSO saw an opportunity to build respect for the rule of law by helping with tax reform.

I submitted a question for the ambassador about how CSO works DIME in the interagency process, although I suspect my question was subsumed with others that were similar.  The closest answer Amb. Barton gave was that the interagency effort can be contentious but there's always room for more opinions.  That's quite a diplomatic answer.

Amb. Barton's work in Afghanistan collected structured interviews with Afghans to establish a baseline assessment of US progress there.  The idea was to make the US interagency effort more self-critical.  He shared his thoughts about Afghanistan in 2003.  Great ideas published in think-tank reports get discarded easily without a well-connected change champion to evangelize them, and eventually the report itself becomes a dead link buried on a website.  It is safe to say the US has made little progress in Afghanistan since 2003.  It is too late to ask whether anyone in the NATO/ISAF high command used that project's baseline assessment.  The lack of progress shows just how much the US needs CSO.  It can play the same role for State that TRADOC plays for the US Army.  State needs CSO to institutionalize its doctrine so future operators have templates for projects they can take to the field.

There's a lesson here for policymakers who are eager to deploy US military forces to every humanitarian crisis and failed state.  Plenty of smart people at State, USAID, USDA, and other agencies have experience running intervention projects.  They need to publish the results of their projects with firm ROIs so Americans can see that X-amount spent on Kenyan governance resulted in Y-amount of US exports to that country.  It's a start, and politicians need to claim they created jobs.

CSO's successes also beg questions about how good governance should work at home.  It boggles the mind that the US funds transparent elections abroad while many US states allow voters to draw ballots at polling stations without displaying identification.  Our foreign pupils can read English-language news media.  They will eventually point out contradictions like this to our diplomats, after they've accepted our development money.

I hope CSO gets the Cabinet-level support it will need to survive indefinitely.  My earliest impression of Foreign Service career employees was a '90s-era comment from a well-known foreign affairs author:  "Most of them just want to make it through the day."  Putting CSO on par with State's geographic bureaus is a challenge to many well-trod career paths.  It also fills a capability gap at end of the US's current wars.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

CFR President Richard Haass Tells WAC NorCal About the Home Front

I was privileged to secure a seat for a talk tonight by Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations.  The World Affairs Council of Northern California convened at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel to accommodate the capacity crowd.  I arrived early as is my habit to score first dibs on food and drink at the reception.  I'm all about freebies when they're on hand at high-level policy action.

Dr. Haass was promoting his new book, Foreign Policy Begins at Home.  He argues that the US must restore its economy's ability to generate prosperity if it wishes to retain its leadership role in the world.  A world without US leadership invites chaos and the resumption of national rivalries among lesser powers who would otherwise prosper under the US security umbrella.  His basic blueprint for renewal involves reinvestment in our physical infrastructure, revival of public education, and enactment of comprehensive immigration reform.  Here's my opportunity to present a 21st Century update to these 20th Century ideas.

Physical infrastructure is great, and I thank Dr. Haass for answering my question (in the affirmative) that the US's oil and gas production boom gives it a window of opportunity for renewal.  The problem we face is that much of the money committed to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has been spent poorly.  San Francisco got some shiny new lighted signs for its underground municipal train stations and some postmodern bus stop shelters, all budgeted to exorbitant union wage scales.  Other parts of the country got bicycle paths and fences that lead nowhere.  Some kind of national infrastructure bank would be a better way to commit funds but it hasn't gotten off the drawing board after six years of effort.  Americans only get motivated to fix national problems after they are embarrassed by a crisis.  The Soviet launch of Sputnik stimulated education spending on math and science in the 1950s.  Americans will have to see collapsing bridges and crumbling dams before they get off their fat rear ends and open their wallets for infrastructure.

Education spending is a totally different story.  The US already spends more per pupil than most countries and gets embarrassingly poor results.  The fault is entirely in the structure of the K-12 public school system, with unionized workforces that can't be held accountable.  The No Child Left Behind Act was a serious attempt to introduce performance metrics into public education and the education establishment has resisted it tooth and nail.  I say it's time to hit the reset button and start from scratch.  The free market is responding to demand for continuing education with the Khan AcademyMIT OpenCourseWare, and other sources that will quickly render public education obsolete.  Let those options develop unhindered by the hand of government.  My education reform platform is as follows . . .

- Decertify all teachers' unions.  Yes, I'm serious.
- End all federal student loan guarantees, Pell grants, and other forms of education subsidy.  How collegiate programs meet their enrollment needs is up to them.
- End federally-funded ROTC programs.  These are wasteful subsidies for low-quality military training.  The US military can commission all the officers it needs from the academies in peacetime and direct commissions in wartime.

None of those things are going to happen, of course, so it's up to the open-source movement to carry the nation's future education burden.  Throwing money at students who are too stupid to go to college is a malinvestment that will negate whatever benefits we get from upgraded infrastructure.

The final point on immigration reform is disingenuous.  Leading lights at the CFR sometimes reflect the thinking of conventional big business sponsors.  The US business community likes cheap labor.  Massive illegal immigration depresses wages and makes it easier for employers to fill low-skill jobs.  Politicians like it when more citizens become clients of government entitlement programs.  Massive immigration means more people collecting welfare, filling Medicare Part D drug prescriptions, and enrolling their kids in public schools.  The legalization of millions of illegals locks these paradigms into place.  Pew Research reveals that Americans remain completely confused about what kind of immigration policy they want.  This means policy elites will tell them what they want.  Elite opinion has solidified in favor of a neofeudal stratification of the American labor market that immigration reform will create.

I liked Dr. Haass' characterization of different regions' possible courses:  "The Middle East will be the most destructive region, Asia the most dynamic, and Europe the most complacent."  This begs the question of where North America, South America, and Africa will be in the near future.  I say North America will be the fattest region, South America will be the most suntanned, and Africa will be the most exploited part of the world.  Oh, BTW, Antarctica will be the coldest.

Thought leaders are valuable even if I don't always agree with everything they say.  CFR people get picked to serve in senior government positions.  Their academic studies often become official policy and Foreign Affairs is on every big shot's coffee table.  I've started asking around about a path to membership because I'm convinced the CFR needs my genius on hand to take things to a whole new level.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Naval War College Foundation Seminar in San Francisco 2013

The Naval War College Foundation has sponsored annual national security seminars in the San Francisco Bay Area for years.  This past April 6 was the first seminar held in San Francisco proper.  I attended for the first time because I liked the theme, "Economic and Maritime Security in the Western Pacific."  I maintain my usual methodology for reporting these types of conferences; I paraphrase the speakers' major points and then offer my own comments in italics.

The introductory speaker noted Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule for PowerPoint briefings.  That rule is aimed at startups pitching to VCs but I'll bet these policy analysts can figure it out.  I wish more publicly traded small-cap stocks in the mining and energy sectors would use that format so their roadshow pitches wouldn't be so tedious.  Anyway, the main topic headings for the conference are in bold text below, followed by the substance of what was said.

"Balancing the Rebalance:  Political Economy of American Strategy in Asia" by Dr. Peter Dombrowski

 You've probably heard a lot about the US foreign policy pivot to Asia and the emerging defense doctrine of Air-Sea Battle to back it up.  Our speaker mentioned that the US Navy currently patrols the Indian Ocean but Americans have usually ignored this region.  Not for long, folks, because China's sea lines of communication to whatever footholds it plans to occupy in Africa must extend across the Indian Ocean and are therefore susceptible to interdiction by the US and/or India.  "Sustaining US Global Leadership" officially announced the Asia-Pacific pivot, and observers can expect further partnership with India and a continued drawdown in Europe.  The shorthand for European observers IMHO is that they can expect reduced US funding for NATO and no serious land-based ballistic missile defense capability.  This isn't the Cold War anymore and there are no Warsaw Pact armored columns poised at the Fulda Gap.  NATO can't do much with two US Army brigade combat teams anyway.  

The IMF reports rapid Asian GDP growth.  Asian trade is still growing as a share of the percentage of world trade that moves by ship, which will increase their demand for maritime security.  The great powers that meet that demand for security will determine the nature of trans-Pacific trade.  The US Navy currently guarantees freedom of navigation through the Strait of Malacca.  The US government's Energy Information Administration recognizes that strait and several other locales as choke points vital to world commerce.  US naval strategy during the Cold War was to field enough aircraft carrier battle groups to control those choke points and prevent the Soviet Navy from achieving a strategic breakout.  The strategy deserves a review in light of China's rise and its demonstrated anti-ship missile capability.  I'll have a lot more to say about this in future blog articles.

China graduates 200,000 engineers each year.  I'm reminded of the old saying that the US graduates more new lawyers each year than the rest of the world combined.  With numbers like these, it's not hard to guess how far ahead China can push its developmental edge to win the future.  Dr. Dombrowski notes that a common storyline in world capitals is the historical likelihood of conflict between rising empires (China) and declining empires (US).  His thesis is that it doesn't have to be this simplistic, because China's dominance and the US's decline are not guaranteed.

The interpretation of how and why China builds its military strength is key to understanding its intentions.  China's current procurement focus is on anti-access and area denial (A2AD) systems that negate US/allied naval power.  US Navy procurement and force structure should account for this A2AD focus.  Emerging joint doctrine calls for autonomously operating forces.  I recall reading white papers in the mid-1990s that advocated disparate forces that could swarm and then scatter over wide areas.  IMHO drone technology now gives us the chance to test such hardware in programmed combat formations.  Air-Sea Battle notes that China's seaborne flows of imported hydrocarbons are vulnerable to maritime interdiction.  This is why China plans pipelines from Siberia and Central Asia to make its energy supplies less vulnerable.

Public coverage of the US's Asia pivot assumes an inevitable conflict with China.  There are other strategic frameworks besides military confrontation.  Dr. Dombrowski argues for applying the NATO rationale of embedding the military containment of China within a broad strategy of regional engagement.  The logical next step in such a policy would be the creation of a formal multinational alliance.  The US's current web of bilateral alliances in Asia conveniently works around uncomfortable anomalies, such as the traditional animosity of Japan and South Korea.  The containment of China provides a wonderful rationale for cajoling Asian democracies into leaving Japan's 20th century aggression behind.  Creating a NATO-like containment structure also requires some diplomatic fail-safe mechanisms like a Washington-Beijing hotline and the periodic observer exchanges during NATO and Warsaw Pact field maneuvers.  The hotline exists but Beijing has made it cumbersome to use.  China wasn't invited to the U.S./allied RIMPAC naval exercise in 2012.  That snub should be considered with Russian marine and naval participation in RIMPAC 2012 as part of a clear message to Beijing.  Oh BTW, China missed its chance to see RIMPAC 2012 running on biofuel.  Maybe RIMPAC 2014 will be different, but I don't expect China to be moderate its assertive claims to other countries' sovereign waters.  That alone argues against their participation in RIMPAC, but China has accepted the US's invitation to participate in RIMPAC 2014 after all.  

Dr. Dombrowski opened it up to Q&A.  The aircraft carrier's fate is hotly contested inside the Navy but he thinks it will be useful for a long time.  Other platforms may help extend its life even if it's less useful in an A2AD scenario against a major power.  An amphibious carrier that can project an MEU into an austere theater is definitely useful in a Libya-type scenario where the strategic intent is confined to changing a weak regime.

The economic crisis impacts the US's ability to fund combat power.  Maybe tolerating more risk in less-vital places is acceptable if we spend money on defending only vital US interests.  The EIA's choke point report tells us exactly where our vital interests reside.  Some combination of air-sea A2AD plus sufficient land power to breach and hold coastal defenses around the choke points is essential.  Everything else - COIN, BMD, large support infrastructure for NATO and other unlikely land-based scenarios - is negotiable.

Pakistan's biggest patron is China, not the US.  Pakistan is still the linchpin of our Afghanistan policy.  Not for long, IMHO.  India is also a big player in the region.  The US-Pakistan relationship has become very problematic in the context of the US's Asia pivot.  I can't elaborate on why the US has stood by Pakistan for so long given its destabilizing tendencies.  Pakistan's A.Q. Khan helped North Korea's nuclear weapon program, doing more to destabilize Asia than anyone in living memory.  Pakistan's fertilizer vendors provide the ignition material for almost all of the IEDs employed against US/NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan.  Pakistan's third-party logistics providers pilfer US military cargo and help fund Taliban activities.  I say Pakistan is one country the US can afford to eject from its orbit.  

The Indian navy is a small player in that country's internal military/political dialogue, thus it has little independence in developing a relationship with the US Navy.  That's true for now but the US can grow this relationship.  The US Army has sent observer missions to Indian military exercises for several years.  If China doesn't add value to the next RIMPAC, India should be welcome to play.

China's resource acquisition strategy is mostly driven by private Chinese companies with lots of cash and market power.  State-controlled companies are a different concern.  Hmm, that's interesting.  I had always assumed China's private companies somehow got their marching orders from Beijing, with subsidized capital as the incentive for playing ball.

China is disingenuous about its cyberwar strategy.  It is obvious that cyberwar attacks have hurt the US economy.  "Cybrid" conflict addresses cyberwar as a hybrid component of conventional conflict.  US policymakers and strategists need to read Unrestricted Warfare, in which two PLA colonels outline China's plan to defeat the US.  China's veiled cyberwar turns theory into practice.

China's holdings of US Treasuries are a bigger problem for itself than the US.  A hasty sale would backfire and crash the value of remaining bonds.  I've noted on my Alfidi Capital Blog how China has gradually made bilateral currency agreements and has periodically reduced its new purchases of Treasuries.  

"Vietnam:  US Engagement Strategy" by Dr. Casey Lucius

Our next presenter had served at the US Embassy in Hanoi.  She argued that Vietnam is of strategic interest to the US because its long coastline offers port access to the Taiwan Strait.  I believe Vietnam's greater strategic value lies in its shared border with China.  Ports have value if they are conduits for trade or waystations where friendly naval vessels can refuel.  If Cam Ranh Bay and other ports can play these roles then the U.S. has reason to care.  Dr. Lucius argued that Vietnam's diplomatic efforts qualify it as a regional leader and offer engagement opportunities for the US.

Vietnam's participation in the UN Security Council enabled it to engage world problems beyond its own borders.  Vietnam now contributes troops to UN peacekeeping missions.  ASEAN's Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea can help circumscribe China's aggressive maneuvers because saving face matters in Asia.  I must disagree here.  China's declared intent to absorb territories claimed by other nations does not respect international norms.  China's signature on that ASEAN declaration means nothing.  It is only useful in the event of China's eventual breach of agreements if ASEAN needs a rallying point to justify a united response.  China's dispatch of eight vessels to the Senkakus shows how little respect it has for its neighbors' territorial waters.  

Allow me to segue for a bit and wonder just what constitutes Vietnam's military capabilities.  IMHO peacekeeping is nice but can they patrol their own maritime zones?  Or would they need the US Navy's help in their own littorals if China challenged them?  Can Vietnam defend its northern border from Chinese invasion?  China's military performed poorly in its 1979 invasion of Vietnam, so any lessons the PLA learned deserve study in the West.  

The US and Vietnam have a mutual interest in deterring China in the South China Sea, and US arms sales offer leverage.  Vietnam wants to buy weapons from the US but the US has embargoed sales of lethal items Vietnam may use against its own people.

Epidemic outbreaks posed risks of deligitimization to the Vietnamese Communist Party.  The government moved quickly to mitigate local SARS outbreaks and connected with global health organizations for help.  The US worked with Vietnam on a comprehensive disease prevention campaign.  Dr. Lucius believes this experience proves that the US can work productively with Vietnam on developing a comprehensive crisis management plan for the region.

The legacy of the Vietnam War persists.  Every visiting US delegation gets an earful of complaints about unexploded ordnance (UXO) and Agent Orange.  Is there any validation for these complaints from independent non-Vietnamese sources?  Vietnam reports that over 2000 casualties occur every year from UXO.  They'll be dealing with this for a long time.  Germany is still digging up Allied UXOs from WWII.  The US Congress has appropriated money to remove Agent Orange dioxins from Vietnam's water, even though the correlation between Agent Orange exposure and health abnormalities isn't clear from statistics.  This reminds me of the US Department of Veterans Affairs' designation of presumptive conditions arising from US troops' exposure to Agent Orange.  Politics takes precedence over statistical validation.  The American Cancer Society has a good rundown on ailments that have been linked to the small numbers of people who experienced concentrated exposure to Agent Orange.  Good meta-studies on cancer research serve the public interest and cut through politically-motivated disinformation.  Vietnam still suppresses political dissent and religious freedom.  The country does want help with development, so perhaps the US can build trust there.

Dr. Lucius articulated several US options for addressing China's rise that were mutually exclusive, yet the US is pursuing all of them simultaneously.  Asian relations really are all about China.  China's dream is to surpass the US as the world's number one military power, so anything less than a determined US presence in Asia will undermine our partners in the region.  Dr. Lucius advocates using "SMART" risk analysis for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-oriented, and Time-limited goals.  The US should assess its strategic options within this rubric.

Then came the Q&A.  Someone asked whether Russia and China have a naval presence in Vietnam.  The official answer is "unknown," with occasional port visits but no likelihood of a permanent presence.  One sharp observer asked how China deals with its neighbors on water use.  Dr. Lucius said Vietnam, Cambodia, and China have land border disputes over water control.  She does not see this as a source of conflict in the Mekong Delta.  I must disagree.  China has had longstanding plans to build hydroelectric plants along the stretch of the Mekong River it controls,  Dams would clearly give China the upper hand in determining water allocation for its neighbors.  Someone else asked about Vietnam's political-military relations.  The Vietnamese military owns all textile factories and telecommunications.  This policy ensures control of vital defense resources and provides jobs to Vietnamese military members when they're not in their training cycle.  It's still a centrally planned economy.

"North Korea:  Politics, Power and Nuclear Weapons," by Dr. Terrence Roehrig

Dr. Roehrig talked about the world's most reclusive kingdom after lunch.  The military balance between the two Koreas is not in the North's favor and they know it.  I remember my first tour of duty in South Korea in the 1990s.  The Third ROK Army defending Seoul was then the largest "field army" (i.e., an integrated fighting force with a four-star commander) in the world.  The South is not the undeveloped agrarian country it was in the 1950s.  The last Kim-to-Kim dynastic transition was planned in advance and Kim Jong-Il as the designated successor had time to build credibility.  Recall the funeral photo of Kim Jong-Un marching alongside his father's hearse.  Civilian officials were arranged behind him, and Jang Song-Taek is related to him by marriage to Kim Jong-Il's sister, Kim Kyong-Hui (i.e., the guy is Kim J-U's uncle).  The military officials on the other side of the hearse have since been removed from power.  North Korea is shifting from military dominance to a military/civilian balance with the Workers' Party of Korea re-elevated.

Dr. Roehrig is skeptical that Kim Jong-Un is fully in control.  There is no danger of a military coup.  Kim's key position is First Secretary of the Party and Chairman of its Central Military Commission.  It's worth noting that North Korea is the only country in the world where a deceased leader is officially recognized as the Eternal President.  Let's see if Kim J-U times an official visit to China with the aftermath of whatever dramatic demonstration of military might he plans to hold.  Ideology maintains the regime's legitimacy:  "Son-gun" is the geopolitical policy of putting the military first and "juche" is the economic philosophy of self-reliance.  Yeah, good luck with those great ideas.  The military has to supplement its own meager rations by tending its own crops and North Korea is one of the poorest countries on the planet.  Check out a night-time satellite photo of the two Koreas.  The south is lit up with energy while the north is pitch dark.  The contrast between prosperity and self-imposed isolation is clear.  

Kim Jong-Un established his legitimacy by invoking Kim Il-Sung's name and legacy, but this young Kim has a much more public image than his father.  He is remaking himself in his grandfather's charismatic image.  His legitimacy is in part grounded on carrying on the ideology of his father and grandfather, and ideology is a crucial component for the legitimacy of this regime.  Note that some news photos indicated he suddenly had a wife, supporting an image as a family man.  It's embarrassing to note that Dennis Rodman may have more personal knowledge of Kim Jong-Un than our own State Department.  When Dennis Rodman returned from his goodwill basketball trip to North Korea, he indicated that Kim's "wife" may have had a baby but this news was not reported in North Korea's own media.  This implies the newborn may not be considered viable for public display as an heir to the regime.  I would be disappointed if the US government has not fully debriefed Mr. Rodman and his entourage after their goodwill visit.  I am not surprised that Mr. Rodman could not keep his mouth shut about such contact.  This lack of discretion will limit his utility as a diplomat if he makes good on his promise to return to North Korea.  

North Korea's nuclear weapons program is real but its capabilities deserve a big question mark.  Their tests indicate some progress toward miniaturization of a warhead.  The US government needs to speak with one voice on this subject.  National strategy is dysfunctional when the Pentagon says North Korea has miniaturized a warhead while the White House expresses its doubts.  This sends a clear message to America's adversaries that the President's top advisers cannot reach a consensus estimate of a threat.  Disagreement is healthy behind closed doors, but it shouldn't leak into the public realm so readily  China told North Korea not to conduct a nuclear test but they did it anyway.  There is no risk of a rupture between these two countries despite China's frustration.  The US estimates the DRPK has enough plutonium for four to ten warheads.

North Korea's Scud short-range missiles can range the entire Korean peninsula.  Its Nodong mid-range ballistic missiles can range Japan and US bases there.  The Musudan is an intermediate range missile that can reach Guam and the Taepodong, along with the KN-08 mobile ICBM, are the longer range missiles that might be able to reach the US.  The Musudan, Taepodong and KN-08 have undergone various degrees of testing but are not believed to be operational.  The Musudan is the missile that many believed would be tested in April.  The Nodong can target Japan with conventional and probably chemical warheads but they are not believed to be terribly accurate.  NK does not have a missile yet that can reach the US.

North Korea tends to tie its provocations to key dates in the history of its ruling dynasty.  April 15 was Kim Il-Sung's 101st birthday.  It came and went without incident.  This regime may have trouble pulling off provocations according to the Kim traditional timetable if Kim Jong-Un isn't fully in control of the military.

Dr. Roehrig and others try to discern how much of North Korea's saber-rattling is real and how much is bluff.  Their new rhetoric claims the ability to target Japan and the US but they have little demonstrated capability to do so.  Most North Korean statements deliver a deterrent tone, i.e. "we will do this if you provoke us."  It is clear that the ROK will respond strongly if North Korea makes a kinetic provocation (like shelling Yeonpyeong island).  North Korea sees nukes as the ultimate deterrent and regime guarantor.  They learned this from watching Iraq and Libya.  The North Korean leadership also sees prestige in having nukes as something that grants big-power acceptance.  They no longer see nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip to  give away.  Nukes are now a permanent part of North Korea's national security doctrine.  This concurs with the open source assessment from KGS NightWatch that North Korea's rhetoric on nuclear weapons will not allow for compromise.  North Korea is unlikely to use nukes offensively, because it knows that would bring regime-ending retaliation.  The nature of that retaliation was left unsaid.  I recall an interview President Clinton gave to CNN in the 1990s when tensions with North Korea were high. He stated clearly that North Korean use of nuclear weapons would bring the end of their country as they know it.  

North Korea's nuclear program is an immediate problem for its neighbors.  South Korea is now seriously thinking of developing its own nuclear weapons.  Japan would then have to decide whether it should obtain nukes, which would be hard due to its WWII experience.  The good news is that US/ROK ties are now better than ever.  We should enjoy the good ties while they last.  Incidents of indiscipline with US troops in South Korea are always fodder for left-leaning student organizations that are probably funded by North Korea.  The US has no "Israel" in the region, i.e. a loyal ally willing to take out the North's nukes.  I'm not so sure that South Korea is totally unwilling to play that role.  I recall one of the old sayings from my first tour in the ROK:  "The US isn't here to keep the North out of the South; it's to keep the South out of the North."  Whatever.  President Park Geun-Hye's "trustpolitik" has not shut off trust-building options despite recent tensions.  I suspect that ROK politicians and geopolitical analysts are better at reading North Korean rhetoric and indicators than their American counterparts.  Letting the ROK take the initiative in resolving tension is correct.  The ROK is strong enough to engage North Korea without deferring to the US.  

The audience questions for this round weren't always intelligible, but Dr. Roehrig answered them well, and that is why his answers will dominate the rest of this summary.  The ROK announced its willingness to resume relief aid even amidst the current tension.  Russia probably has the least leverage of the Six Party members.  Hunger in the North is still a problem, with some chronic food shortages and much evidence of multi-generational health problems.  Selling nuclear weapons materials to other countries would be a US/ROK "red line."  I do not know whether that is officially announced policy or just a reflection of a consensus in Washington.  A ROK pre-emptive strike on a DPRK launch site is unlikely.  One out-of-the-box thinker in the audience asked if it would be possible to buy off the North Korean regime for some unknown price.  I give the guy credit for original thinking.  Dr. Roehrig said that's probably not realistic because you'd have to bribe and relocate tens of thousands of regime officials.

The State Department was irritated when Eric Schmidt visited North Korea with former Gov. Bill Richardson because it legitimized the regime.  The North Korean media played it as a "US delegation."  The ROK military thinks strategic deterrence works but it's harder to deter small-scale incidents like the Cheonan sinking.  The ROK has now publicized very clear red lines that will prompt retaliation.  North Korea's actions may not appear rational to us but they do have patterns of setting criteria for de-escalation.  There is no short-term chance of revolution from below in North Korea.  The good news is that smuggled cell phones and digital media introduce a slow leakage of modern information into North Korea.  That's nothing without openness at the top.  Ordinary Soviets had smuggled Western goods for years but the regime only fell after Mikhail Gorbachev introduced reforms.  Defectors also introduce us to what's going on inside the country.  The Daily NK keeps us apprised of news like executions for defacing pictures of the Kim dynasty.  

I'll close out the North Korea part of this report by wondering out loud why Japan still tolerates the existence of Chongryon.  Japanese law does not begrudge the right of ethnic Koreans to refuse to assimilate.  This does not excuse the blatantly pro-North Korean activities of Chongryon from scrutiny by law enforcement and security agencies.  The activities of this organization as a conduit for illicit transfers of funds and information to North Korea pose a clear security risk to Japan.

Panel Discussion:  Alternative Perspectives

The speakers took their turns developing the US's next steps in Asia.  The rest of this summary will be stream-of-consciousness, without individual attribution.  Embed US strategy within international organizations.  Talk doesn't solve problems but collaboration can bring some actors into a problem-solving process.  China never follows through on any US request to exert leverage over North Korea; they have exerted some pressure on the DPRK but it has either been unsuccessful or not as strong as the US would think necessary.  Why not talk to Vietnam instead?  Hanoi has good relations with Pyongyang and can model a regime North Korea considers a "success."

Our well-informed audience had plenty of questions.  Once again, stream-of-consciousness, without attribution.

Were the sanctions on North Korea effective?  A large body of literature is pessimistic on sanctions causing changes in regime behavior.  Sanctions have degraded North Korea's nuclear weapon and missile programs.  North Korea has found back-channel ways around financial sanctions.  Read my mention of Chongryon above for a hint as to how the DPRK gets around financial sanctions.

What is going on with Indonesia?  The good news is that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore cooperate in maintaining the security of the Strait of Malacca.  The key to understanding Indonesia's importance is that five of the seven main sea routes for transporting Middle East oil to China transit Indonesian waters.

What about the Burma / Myanmar opening?  The US welcomes it.  Well, obviously.  China is Myanmar's biggest investor so any inroads the US can make will throw China off balance.  China's oil pipeline through Myanmar opens for business very soon, reducing China's vulnerability to constricted sea lines.  Asia really is all about China, and China really is all about resources.

Should the US send Dennis Rodman back to North Korea to gather more intelligence?  Ha-ha, good one there.  There's nothing wrong with private cultural exchanges as long as we're not hopeful they lead to short-term changes.  The guy who calls himself "The Worm" plans a return trip to the Hermit Kingdom later this summer.  

One panelist made the very interesting comment that former Doobie Brothers guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter has been a highly paid consultant to the defense and intelligence communities!  I had no idea that a rock musician could hold a high-level security clearance.  That means there's hope for me yet.  Just think, some analyst could send my blog articles to a senior defense official and then - presto - I'm in the National Military Command Center with Skunk Baxter, Henry Kissinger, and whoever is running the Trilateral Commission and Illuminati these days.  Man, sign me up for that stuff.  

Should the US step back from inter-Korean problems and let the ROK lead?  The ROK still values US tactical fighter superiority.  US troop presence in South Korea has more political value than military utility.  The US does not want South Korea to get nukes.  The US willingness to commit strategic assets (B-52s, etc.) does much to deter ROK aggressiveness.  I'm inclined to let the ROK take the lead so long as we keep them on a long leash to "keep the South out of the North."  The US has always reserved the right to exercise operational control (OPCON) of South Korea's armed forces in the event of hostilities.  This has long been a thorn in the side of South Korean military officers' nationalist sentiments.  The US and ROK agreed to a transition to South Korean OPCON years ago; the transition is running late and one former US commander is now having second thoughts.  This confusion is music to North Korea's ears.  I say let the transition continue as planned.  South Korea's national security architecture is mature enough to handle a war for national survival.  

Why not ignore North Korean rhetoric?   At the national level, not speaking also sends messages.  North Korea may interpret that as preparation for a surprise attack.  These are hard-won lessons from the Cold War.  The US and Soviet Union established hot lines to ensure national leaders could dispel any misunderstandings on short notice and avoid a crisis.  The NATO and Warsaw Pact alliances frequently exchanged military observer missions to monitor each other's announced exercises; this ensured that large-scale field maneuvers were not surprise attacks.  I doubt that North Korea would ever want a hotline with the White House or agree to military observer exchanges with South Korea. The US POW/MIA recovery effort in North Korea has allowed for intermittent foreign military presence inside the Hermit Kingdom that the Kim regime found non-threatening.  Large humanitarian aid promises were the price to pay.

Does North Korea have chemical and biological weapons?  They do have chemical weapons and may have bio-weapons.  They have operationalized their fairly large chemical arsenal.

What is next for China's development?  Every great power strikes a balance between military power and economic development.  Americans ask themselves legitimate questions when considering how much infrastructure investment is sufficient to remain powerful.  Japan and South Korea have low birthrates and may not be able to fill their militaries with males.  So how about females?  Israel does that because its survival in a hostile neighborhood is at stake.  China has a falling birthrate and a gender imbalance that will harm its development.  Other countries think the US's openness to immigration is a strength that negates a low birthrate.  Interesting.  They think it adds to our stock of human capital.  The foreign perspective is one we haven't heard in Washington's debate over immigration reform.

Why does the US periodically shift its strategic focus between Europe and Asia?  The US never left Asia after World War II.  The real anomaly is our huge presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Americans were unwilling to favor a large military presence overseas before WWII.  The US presence in Asia has never been limited to the military; consider development aid.  Look no further than the persistence of the "Ugly American" stereotype to see just how long we've been trying to make a difference in Asia, with varying degrees of success.

What is the current relationship between the US and the Philippines?  Subic Bay is still useful but the Philippine people have little interest in a permanent US presence.  The USS Guardian minesweeper grounded on the country's World Heritage Site coral reef.  US willingness to spend money to dismantle the ship to save the reef sends a tremendous message about American values.  The US should exploit this demonstration of its values with an information operations campaign via the Voice of America and social media.  

Is there some future unidentified third party cyber threat to the US?  There's plenty of evidence for non-state hacker attacks.  The US is studying the usefulness of red lines prompting a cyber-response.  The undeclared cyber-war between the US and unnamed actors has been running for over a decade.

Does Vietnam send officers to the Naval War College?  ARVN officers attended until 1975 and a few Vietnamese officers have attended recently now that relations are better.  Mainland China has never sent attendees to the Naval War college because Taiwan has sent a student every year since the 1950s.  Vietnam is too suspicious of China to send its officers to the PLA's senior academies.

What about Australia?  It's a strong US ally.  The Australian army may have political limits to an extensive US permanent military presence.  Resource exports to China are a factor in Australian policy, giving China leverage.  US Army Pacific now has an Australian two-star army general as its deputy commander for operations.  That is an extremely important development.  Allied officers in the US armed forces are often assigned as liaisons to corps and theater headquarters, military school instructors, and exercise observers.  They rarely assume roles within an American chain of command.  More such arrangements will send a clear message to China and North Korea that an attack on an American ally is an attack on America itself.  

There is one scenario that none of the panelists or audience members addressed, so I'll mention it here.  Russia, China, and India are obviously the most important powers in Asia.  Russia has largely settled its differences with its neighbors except for the frequent outbreaks of Islamic radicalism in the Caucasus.  China and India have yet to settle any of their differences.  They both have unresolved claims on parts of each others' territory.  China's control of the headwaters of the Indus River will eventually pose problems for India's water need if China continues its hydroelectric building programs.  India and China's demographics and development needs will inevitably bring them into direct competition for access to energy, water, and mineral resources.   I take a potential conflict between China and India very seriously.  I would very much like to contact other members of the US defense, diplomatic, and intelligence communities who have an interest in studying this scenario.  Capt. James Fanell (US Navy) also takes the rise of China seriously, and as a Hoover Fellow he studied China's open source developments in his Red Star Rising column.  He continues to discuss China in his Red Star Rising Google Group and in public appearances.  Capt. Fanell performs a great service for our nation by discussing emerging security risks in frank terms.  

I had a blast absorbing all of this knowledge from serious national security scholars.  I spent several weeks preparing this article to ensure it reflected everything discussed, met my high editorial standards, and referenced only unclassified information found in open sources.  I will definitely attend next year so I can keep scouting for an audience that will listen to my pet theories about security in Asia.