Archive for December, 2009

The Ninja Monkey Threat

December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!  To close out 2009 I thought I’d highlight a nascent threat that could pose a major security problem for the international community in 2010: ninja monkeys.  Click on this link if you want to catch a glimpse of our future overlords.

Chinese Influence in Afghanistan

December 30, 2009

Earlier today, the New York Times published a very interesting article by Michael Wines in which he discusses China’s large investment in Afghanistan’s Aynak copper mine, which is located in Logar Province.  He also analyzes China’s commercial strategy, which is part of its overall foreign policy, and its efforts to secure mineral resources abroad.

One aspect of China’s investments in Afghanistan that Mr. Wines largely ignores is the Chinese  government’s attempt to gain political influence in Afghanistan to counter India’s recent development efforts there.  In fact, five countries are jockeying for power in the war-torn nation: China, India, Pakistan, Iran and the US.  China and India have economic motives for their financial investments, but the geopolitical rivals are also trying to limit the reach of their traditional enemies.  India and Pakistan are even greater rivals, and those two states have political motives for their involvement in Afghanistan; in the case of Pakistan, it seeks to maintain ties to the Taliban in case the group regains power in Kabul, and it also wants to check India’s encroachment into a country that Pakistan considers to be of vital interest to its national security.  Iran meddles in Afghanistan, and it is trying to thwart  US efforts to encircle and contain the Islamic Republic.  America’s presence in Afghanistan is primarily for counterterrorism purposes; it wants to prevent the Taliban from retaking control of the country and giving Al Qaeda a safe haven there, and it needs airbases in Afghanistan from which to launch drone strikes into the tribal regions of Pakistan where anti-American militants are based.

The ongoing geopolitical competition in Afghanistan is complex.  How it plays out will largely depend on the government in Kabul and its ability to establish and maintain security with the help of the US.

Yemen: Al Qaeda’s New Haven

December 29, 2009

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi recently told the BBC that his government needs more international assistance to combat Al Qaeda elements in his country.  He said that Yemen has the will to take on the militants but needs additional financial and military support from Western nations.  His comments came in the wake of an attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian man who was living in Yemen until earlier this month, to blow up a civilian airliner that was traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Yemen is very unstable and its weak government is engaged in two civil wars.  This chaotic environment is ideal for terrorists who seek a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks.  Somalia, which lies directly across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, has similar problems, and both countries have reportedly become destinations for Al Qaeda members who leave Pakistan for security reasons.  US policymakers and military leaders, including Gen. David Patrareus, the head of Central Command, are concerned about the threat posed by militants in that part of the world, and American special operations forces have reportedly carried out raids against suspected terrorists from nearby bases and offshore platforms.

The US has sought to improve the counterinsurgency capabilities of countries that are fighting Islamic extremists, including Afghanistan , Pakistan and Iraq, but those attempts have been on a large scale relative to most American efforts to help foreign governments with internal defense.  Given manpower and budget contstraints, the US will have to rely on Special Forces and other small units to train soldiers in partner nations.  For the same reasons, it is unlikely that the US will engage in more nation-building in lawless states where militants thrive, but providing a small number of trainers and a few billion dollars to bolster the security forces in countries of concern would be a fairly minor expense when viewed in the context of America’s overall defense budget, and it is a strategy that the Obama administration will likely pursue.

Religion and the Opposition Movement in Iran

December 28, 2009

Yesterday, protests by the opposition movement against the authorities took place all over Iran.  The government responded by ordering the police to shoot at protesters, according to eyewitness accounts; members of the pro-government bajij militia also reportedly attacked protesters.  Opposition leaders were intimidated or arrested, including Ibrahami Yazdi, who heads a banned political party, and Ali Moussavi, the nephew of Ali Moussavi, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s main opponent in the presidential election earlier this year, was reportedly assassinated.  The protests and the government crackdown took place on Ashura, one of the holiest days for Shiite Muslims, during which killing is normally forbidden even during wartime.  Sunday was also the seventh day since the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a founding father of the Islamic Republic who subsequently lashed out against the theocratic regime for violating human rights and Islamic religious principles; a fact that had symbolic significance for those of the Shiite faith.  Other opposition figures, including Mehdia Karroubi, have also used religion as a weapon against the powers that be, accusing them of acting in a way that is contrary to the teachings of the Koran.

The events yesterday could have two important implications for the conflict between government and anti-government forces.  One is that the violent stifling of dissent by Ayatollah Khamenei against unarmed protesters, especially during religious holidays, could anger traditional religious conservatives enough to actively join the opposition movement, which would add to its size and diversify its demographic makeup.  A second important development is that some police officers refused to suppress the protesters, and one even wore a purple armband to indicate his support for their cause.; if more members of the security forces refuse to fight, or if they side with those who oppose the government, it could seriously hinder the ability of the regime to maintain its hold on power.

The fact that many Iranians have recently been shouting “Death to Khamenei” rather than “Death to America” could spell trouble for Iran’s ruling elite.  It, along with the courage of those who continue to protest despite the crackdown, demonstrates that anti-government sentiment runs deep among some elements of Iranian society.  But whether they will be able to affect political change in their country and compel liberalization is highly uncertain.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2009

Enjoy the Christmas holiday, everybody.  In the spirit of Christmas I am posting a link to a funny article in The Onion about federal efforts to bring down a Secret Santa ring.

I will be taking the day off tomorrow but I will resume blogging on Monday.