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New Article up at Divergent Options

Monday, January 16th, 2017

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

I have a piece up at Divergent Options, a new national security site that aims to provoke thought regarding foreign policy with a concise template that distills the essence of foreign policy problems and provides but does not recommend options. As DO describes it:

What We Do:  In 1,000 words or less, Divergent Options provides unbiased, dispassionate, candid articles that describe a national security situation, present multiple options to address the situation, and articulate the risk and gain of each option.  Please note that while we assess a national security situation and provide options, we never recommend a specific option.

Who We Communicate To:  Our intended audience is National Security Practitioners worldwide.  We keep our articles short and to the point because we know that Practitioners have a limited amount of time and are likely reading our content on a digital device during a commute, a lunch break, or in-between meetings

My post is an effort to reconnect Syrian policy, widely regarded as a disaster by most foreign policy pundits, back to a coherent grand strategy.

Syria Options: U.S. Grand Strategy 

[…]

Background:  Aleppo has fallen and with it the last shreds of credibility of President Obama’s policy on Syria.  None of Obama’s policy goals for Syria since the Arab Spring revolt were achieved.  In Syria, the Assad regime has crushed western-backed opposition fighters with direct Russian and Iranian military ground support; the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still controls swaths of Syrian territory[1] and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally Turkey has conspired with Iran and Russia to exclude the U.S. and UN[2] from Syrian settlement talks.

Significance:  While Syria itself is of little strategic value to the U.S. beyond secondary implications for Israeli security, the utter failure of the Obama administration has brought U.S. diplomatic prestige to a nadir reminiscent of the Iranian hostage crisis or the fall of Saigon.  Worse, defeat in Syria occurred in a broader context of successful Russian aggression in Ukraine, uncontested Russian meddling in an U.S. presidential election, and perceptions of U.S. strategic concessions to Tehran in the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA[3]).  Should the next administration want to accomplish more than Obama, it is vital that they  1) address Syria within the context of increased Russian-U.S. competition and 2) seize the initiative in restoring the influence of U.S. leadership with substantive and symbolic policy changes in regard to Syria and Russia.

Read the rest here.

The map borders on the territory? Turkey, Palestine

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — maps as records, as wishes, as hints, as silent threats ]
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Interesting things, maps. Models and descriptions, too, but it’s maps I’m thinking of here. Two examples:

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Turkey:

turkish-map

From my point of view, the most striking paragraph in the Foreign Policy piece titled Turkey’s New Maps Are Reclaiming The Ottoman Empire was this one:

At first glance, the maps of Turkey appearing on Turkish TV recently resemble similar irredentist maps put out by proponents of greater Greece, greater Macedonia, greater Bulgaria, greater Armenia, greater Azerbaijan, and greater Syria. That is to say, they aren’t maps of the Ottoman Empire, which was substantially larger, or the entire Muslim world or the Turkic world. They are maps of Turkey, just a little bigger.

Map bloating & boasting is obviously bigger business than I had fully realized.

Also of interest was the comment:

On two separate occasions, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the Treaty of Lausanne, which created the borders of modern Turkey, for leaving the country too small. He spoke of the country’s interest in the fate of Turkish minorities living beyond these borders, as well as its historic claims to the Iraqi city of Mosul..

Mosul, okay, noted — but what interests me more is the parallelism with Putin‘s attitude to the Ukraine:

“Novorossiya” or “New Russia”: Putin only briefly mentioned that term during a five-hour, televised question-and-answer session this month. But his revival of that geographic title for southern and eastern Ukraine—territory won from the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th century by Catherine the Great—is resonating among Russians today.

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Palestine:

One other recent map controversy caught my eye…

google-map

The claim was made that Google had eliminated the name Palestine from Google Maps. Google denied this:

“There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps, however we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip,’ ” the company said in a statement. “We’re working quickly to bring these labels back to the area.” It is unclear if that bug played a role in spurring the online outrage.

Elizabeth Davidoff, a spokeswoman, said in an email that the company had also never used the label “Palestinian territories” on its maps. The bug affecting the words “Gaza Strip” and “West Bank” persisted on Wednesday, but when Google Maps functions properly both areas are labeled and separated from Israel by a dotted line to signify that their borders are not internationally recognized.

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Dotted lines in the sand..

Twice lucky, or thrice? On dodging nuclear fireballs

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — two Russian secular saints — and an Australian ]
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It seems we’ve been lucky twice —

saved-twice

Read their two stories, and weep.

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27 October 1962

Thank you Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war

If you were born before 27 October 1962, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov saved your life. It was the most dangerous day in history. An American spy plane had been shot down over Cuba while another U2 had got lost and strayed into Soviet airspace. As these dramas ratcheted tensions beyond breaking point, an American destroyer, the USS Beale, began to drop depth charges on the B-59, a Soviet submarine armed with a nuclear weapon.

The captain of the B-59, Valentin Savitsky, had no way of knowing that the depth charges were non-lethal “practice” rounds intended as warning shots to force the B-59 to surface. The Beale was joined by other US destroyers who piled in to pummel the submerged B-59 with more explosives. The exhausted Savitsky assumed that his submarine was doomed and that world war three had broken out. He ordered the B-59’s ten kiloton nuclear torpedo to be prepared for firing. Its target was the USS Randolf, the giant aircraft carrier leading the task force.

If the B-59’s torpedo had vaporised the Randolf, the nuclear clouds would quickly have spread from sea to land. The first targets would have been Moscow, London, the airbases of East Anglia and troop concentrations in Germany. The next wave of bombs would have wiped out “economic targets”, a euphemism for civilian populations – more than half the UK population would have died. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s SIOP, Single Integrated Operational Plan – a doomsday scenario that echoed Dr Strangelove’s orgiastic Götterdämmerung – would have hurled 5,500 nuclear weapons against a thousand targets, including ones in non-belligerent states such as Albania and China. [ .. ]

The decision not to start world war three was not taken in the Kremlin or the White House, but in the sweltering control room of a submarine. The launch of the B-59’s nuclear torpedo required the consent of all three senior officers aboard. Arkhipov was alone in refusing permission. It is certain that Arkhipov’s reputation was a key factor in the control room debate. The previous year the young officer had exposed himself to severe radiation in order to save a submarine with an overheating reactor.

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September 26, 1983

The Man Who Saved the World by Doing Absolutely Nothing

It was September 26, 1983. Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces, was on duty at Serpukhov-15, a secret bunker outside Moscow. His job: to monitor Oko, the Soviet Union’s early-warning system for nuclear attack. And then to pass along any alerts to his superiors. It was just after midnight when the alarm bells began sounding. One of the system’s satellites had detected that the United States had launched five ballistic missiles. And they were heading toward the USSR. Electronic maps flashed; bells screamed; reports streamed in. A back-lit red screen flashed the word ‘LAUNCH.'”

That the U.S. would be lobbing missiles toward its Soviet counterpart would not, of course, have been out of the question at that particular point in human history. Three weeks earlier, Russians had shot down a South Korean airliner that had wandered into Soviet air space. NATO had responded with a show of military exercises. The Cold War, even in the early ’80s, continued apace; the threat of nuclear engagement still hovered over the stretch of land and sea that fell between Washington and Moscow.

Petrov, however, had a hunch — “a funny feeling in my gut,” he would later recall — that the alarm ringing through the bunker was a false one. It was an intuition that was based on common sense: The alarm indicated that only five missiles were headed toward the USSR. Had the U.S. actually been launching a nuclear attack, however, Petrov figured, it would be extensive — much more, certainly, than five. Soviet ground radar, meanwhile, had failed to pick up corroborative evidence of incoming missiles — even after several minutes had elapsed. The larger matter, however, was that Petrov didn’t fully trust the accuracy of the Soviet technology when it came to bomb-detection. He would later describe the alert system as “raw.”

But what would you do? You’re alone in a bunker, and alarms are screaming, and lights are flashing, and you have your training, and you have your intuition, and you have two choices: follow protocol or trust your gut. Either way, the world is counting on you to make the right call.

Petrov trusted himself. He reported the satellite’s detection to his superiors — but, crucially, as a false alarm. And then, as Wired puts it, “he hoped to hell he was right.”

He was, of course. The U.S. had not attacked the Soviets. It was a false alarm. One that, had it not been treated as such, may have prompted a retaliatory nuclear attack on the U.S. and its NATO allies. Which would have then prompted … well, you can guess what it would have prompted.

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Oh, and the Australian. I came by this topic via an article about this man, Professor Des Bell:

des-ball

A strategist with books — he’s the sort of chap this blog thrives on! And he, too, seems to have saved us from a fiery furnace of our own devising:

Des Ball: the man who saved the world

THAT America could launch a limited nuclear strike against Russia was a fashionable belief in US strategic theory of the 1970s. Policymakers thought that if Cold War tensions boiled over, they could hit selected Soviet targets in a way that controlled further escalation and forced Moscow to back down.

It took the iconoclastic Australian security scholar Des Ball to point out that the theory was bunkum. In his influential essays of the early 1980s, Ball argued that reasoned strategic theory was likely to go out the window once the missiles started flying.

Among the first targets would be the other side’s command and control centres – its eyes and ears. Once blinded, a superpower – consisting of real people responding with human instincts – would not distinguish a ”controlled” strike from a full-scale attack and would retaliate with everything it had.

Thrice lucky? I prefer to call it grace.

Vladimir Putin and St Vladimir, Church and State in Russia

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Saint Vlad II? Tsar Vlad? Impaler Vlad? Ras(KGB)Putin? — my latest piece, posted today at LapidoMedia ]
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Here’s the opening of my latest piece for LapidoMedia, exploring issues of Church and State — with an eye on Putin & Patriarch Kirill, and their join interest in the assassination / martydom of the Romanovs.

Vladimir Putin and St Vladimir, Church and State in Russia

THE Romanovs, the royal family of the Russian Tsars were killed, and some would say martyred, by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

But now, almost a century later, President Vladimir Putin, appears to be slowly rehabilitating the royals.

And the Romanovs’ reemergence has implications for Putin, a quasi-Tsar as Russian head of state, emphasizing renewed collaboration between Church and State, long estranged during Soviet rule.

Here as in many other ways, Putin works in close association with his fellow ex-KGB hand, Patriarch Kirill II of Moscow. Forbes described him as more than a mere informer saying he was ‘an active officer’ of the spy organization.

And Putin’s friend the Patriarch too has a keen interest in the rehabilitation of the Romanovs.

In a 2013 television broadcast on the significance of the Romanov family, he said: ‘A solemn Divine Liturgy was celebrated on March 6 in Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin, during which we commemorated all Romanovs, beginning with Mikhail Fedorovich, Aleksei Mikhailovich – the great gatherer of the Russian land, Peter I, and down to the Holy Passion-Bearer Nicholas II. We commemorated these people with thanks to God for their efforts and with prayers beseeching the Lord to grant rest to their souls in the abode of the righteous.’

To read the rest, including the end of my tale, looking at ideas that Vladimir Putin must surely have entertained– Saint Vladimir II? Tsar Vlad? Impaler Vlad? Ras(KGB)Putin? — please go to the Lapido site.

Enjoy.

The great northern thaw

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — okay, methane, yes, for starters — now add some radioactive waste and anthrax to the brew ]
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Two recent items that caught my eye:

Tablet DQ Thaw raindeer and radioactivity

Sources:

  • USA Today, Global warming could ‘unfreeze’ waste buried in old Greenland military base
  • The Atlantic, Siberia’s Deadly Anthrax Outbreak
  • **

    More generally, we non-expert interested folk have known for a while — assuming, say, we read the New York Times piece, As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks, back in 2011 — that loss of permafrost was hazardous to planetary health:

    Experts have long known that northern lands were a storehouse of frozen carbon, locked up in the form of leaves, roots and other organic matter trapped in icy soil — a mix that, when thawed, can produce methane and carbon dioxide, gases that trap heat and warm the planet. But they have been stunned in recent years to realize just how much organic debris is there.

    A recent estimate suggests that the perennially frozen ground known as permafrost, which underlies nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere.

    Temperatures are warming across much of that region, primarily, scientists believe, because of the rapid human release of greenhouse gases. Permafrost is warming, too. Some has already thawed, and other signs are emerging that the frozen carbon may be becoming unstable. [ .. ]

    If a substantial amount of the carbon should enter the atmosphere, it would intensify the planetary warming. An especially worrisome possibility is that a significant proportion will emerge not as carbon dioxide, the gas that usually forms when organic material breaks down, but as methane, produced when the breakdown occurs in lakes or wetlands. Methane is especially potent at trapping the sun’s heat, and the potential for large new methane emissions in the Arctic is one of the biggest wild cards in climate science.

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    Okay, now we can also think about rotting reindeer carcases and radioactive waste.

    I can’t see Russia from my house, but it looks as though the Russians have the reindeer anthrax issue well in hand, and the “once top-secret subterranean U.S. nuclear base in northern Greenland” with its “radioactive coolant, PCBs, and raw sewage that the military originally believed would stay entombed for millennia” seems to pale in comparison with the possibilities of methane discharge — Cheryl Rofer could no doubt estimate the comparative risks far better than I — so this post is not intended as a scare-alert, but as yet another example of a category that interests me way more than most — which is why I’d like to direct it:

    Attn: Department of Blindspots and Unintended Consequences

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