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Thomas P.M. Barnett Goes Dark

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Tom goes sine die

You can still catch Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett’s geopolitical thinking at TIME magazine’s Battleland blog and, of course, if you subscribe to Wikistrat 


Wikistrat Blog

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Wikistrat, where I am a senior analyst for their North America desk, has started a blog featuring their analysts and experts. We’ll see how the Wikistrat Blog evolves, but for now here are a few sample posts:

Ask Wikistrat’s Chief Analyst Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett 

Q: Timothy Kelly-  Dr. Barnett, how do you think nuclear proliferation will play out in the Middle East?

A: I think the Obama Administration’s oil-focused sanctions will put immense pressure on the Iranian regime to cave in on the nuke question, possibly to the point of striking out in some manner that Israel – and perhaps the U.S. – can use as a pretext for launching substantial strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.  But if I had to bet, I would lay money on Israel striking first for its own reasons versus Tehran providing the excuse.  Iran has always struck me as incredibly aware of which line-crossing activities will elicit direct military responses, and, much in the vein of WS’s recent simulation on this subject, I think Tehran knows well that it needs to avoid any genuine threat to global oil markets – lest it trigger an “all-in” military response from the United States.

So I think Iran’s really stuck, as it were, and will likely have to suffer a beat-down from Israel sometime in the next 24 months.  I think it can take that “licking” and keep on “ticking” in terms of its nuclear weaponization goals, which I think are real and – in structural terms – completely justified by the region’s current correlation of forces.  So I’m still betting on Iran having the Bomb before Obama leaves office in 2017 (yes, I see him winning again in November), and when that happens, I do expect the Saudis to cash in their long-held promise from Pakistan to supply them with their own devices…. 

The 3 C’S Around The Pakistan Question (Abhijnan Rej) 

In the Spring 2012 issue of The Washington Quarterly, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad proposed a strategy for dealing with Pakistan by imaging it to be in a class of countries that are both adversaries and allies at the same time – with some vectors of interests of the elites pointing towards the United States and some others that don’t.  Ambassador Khalilzad’s analysis is macroscopic, to a large extent based on the evolution of the Pakistani nation-state at large. By way of a compliment to his analysis, I want to provide here a microscopic typology of Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism in terms of a complete union of three different groups with respect to interests in jihadi extremism. Each group is distinct and yet has a significant overlap with the other and all of them originate inside the Pakistani army.

The first group, which I will term complicit, is largely backed by former and serving Inter-Services Intelligence officers, conjecturally from its Directorate S, and with ties to jihadi groups going back to the 1980s. This group wants Pakistan as a model state for the entire ummah; it will not hesitate to harbor top al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, or for that matter directly engage American forces as it did in 2007 – not because it shares Salafist ideologies (it often doesn’t) but because of a deep sense of Muslim nationalism and therefore, per their logic, anti-Americanism.  A simple fact of life in Pakistan is that even though the ISI was created as coordinating intelligence agency for the various armed services, it remains distinct from the army and to a very large extent autonomous from it.  This could be one of the reasons why there was no contradiction when Admiral Michael Mullen had “given an A” to the Pakistani army during its fight with Taliban elements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2009-2010 and the very next year, right before his retirement, described the Haqqani network as a “veritable arm of the ISI” to the Senate Armed Services Committee….. 

Collection Item Of The Week: “Pentagon Report Finds Iran’s Ballistic Missiles Improving” (Lauren Mellinger, Caitlin Barthold, Steven Aiello, Zachary Keck and Zoya Sameen) 


A Pentagon study that was submitted to Congress late last month finds that Iran has improved the accuracy and lethality of its short- and long-range missiles and is in the process of developing an anti-ship ballistic missile system.

According to the Pentagon’s report, Iran’s improved missile defense affords greater survivability against United States and Gulf Cooperation Council systems deployed in the region. Additionally, Iranian forces are becoming ever more competent in using these systems because of Tehran’s regular ballistic missile training, which “continues throughout the country.”

The report further notes that Iran is developing short-range missile systems with “seekers” — allowing missiles to identify and reposition themselves in flight to hit moving targets. Trackers noted the addition of “new ships and submarines,” while indicating that Iranian short-range ballistic missiles are in the process of evolving toward an operational ability to target maritime targets and vessels….


The Pentagon report signifies that any attack on Iranian soil will carry heavy risk and significant repercussions.

The Department of Defense’s earlier reports seem to have underestimated some of Iran’s military capabilities, particularly the accuracy and effectiveness of its ballistic missiles.  This latest study more accurately highlights the threat that Iran could pose, if attacked. It cites the 2012 war simulations done by the Iranian armed forces, which illustrated their skills in offensive and defensive maneuvers….

….On the other hand, Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association who previously worked on intelligence matters for the Senate and the State Department, has noted that the report’s language implies that the Pentagon now believes that it is less likely that Iran will be capable of testing an ICBM by 2015, compared to an assessment made two years prior. Specifically, whereas the 2010 report on Iran’s military capabilities read, “With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an [ICBM] capable of reaching the United States by 2015,” the 2012 report states, “With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran may be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015.” …..

Read more here.


Wikistrat on Putin 2.0

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Wikistrat Simulation: North American Energy Boom

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Wikistrat has started a simulation on the geopolitics of a North American energy market boom, in which I am participating, along with blogfriends HG99. Chris Cox and many other analysts. I have also taken a hand, as time permits, at developing their material on super empowered individuals which should be useful in future simulations.

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, who is also Wikistrat’s chief analyst, has an extensive post up today explaining the Energy Boom simulation and other Wikistrat information:

Unfolding Wikistrat simulation on North American energy boom

….After the success of the “China as Africa’s de facto World Bank” simulation, we start moving expressedly into a series of sims aimed to flesh out the logic of the world’s first crowd-sourced strategy book, the proposal for which we’re now circulating in NYC. It was about time for me to gin up another, and I was really looking to do something different because I feel like I got my “vision” out in the trilogy.  Plus, I wanted to do something long-term in its thinking.  More details later as things unfold.

For now, we tee up the first of about a half-dozen major sims that will explore the drivers of a particular future world order that I became intrigued with as a result of last summer’s Wikistrat Grand Strategy Competition. To me, how the NorthAm energy boom (question mark suggests nothing in this world is a given) unfolds is one of the major global uncertainties.  North America can get it right or wrong on a host of levels, and since we’re the inventors of these fracking revolution, the QWERTY effect would be huge, triggering a host of possible future pathways from fabulous to self-desructively nasty in terms of the environment and/or whether or not this great gift becomes an excuse for bad geostrategic choices by the U.S., China, Europe, Brazil, India, Russia – the big six we’re focusing on here.  You can say, it’s a simple projection: it works or it doesn’t.  But the secondary and tertiary pathways that are revealed in this two stage process (NorthAm leads, others follow or ignore) are varied and immense in their capacity to make global stability better or worse.

So, naturally, I’m pretty pysched about the sim.  One thing to go and read a bunch of books and try to get smart enough to cover this in a book, but another to turn loose dozens-to-hundreds of virtual co-authors in a competitive space to brainstorm all the possibilities.

Especially exciting for this sim: we now have senior experts stepping in and providing big-time ideas.  Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, just out from the Kennan job at State (Policy Planning) under Obama, joined Wikistrat weeks back and she brings not just a wealth of experience and keen insight, she’s also a not-too-closeted enthusiast for this sort of social networking as a tool to drive new thinking and change old thinking. She’s already made a huge contribution to the sim that lays out, in a very clever way grounded in real-world vehicles, how a positive path in NorthAm could go global (as a fellow optimist, my attraction to her scenario was immediate, not because it was rosy per se, but because she elucidated why, given the parameters, this was the best forward-moving deal for the universe of public and private-sector actors working this policy space now in the U.S.).

Other senior experts piping in with their own scenarios include: Gary Hunt, president of Tech and Creative Labs, a tech mash-up that moves software solutions into the energy vertical market; and Chris Cox from Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (GfK), Germany’s oldest consumer research org (Chris comes with an energy focus on the fmr USSR realm).

Read the rest here.

Blast From the Past: What if Kim Jong-Il Died?

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Leaving the world no poorer, Kim Jong-il, sybaritic monster and sociopathic dictator of North Korea,  is dead.

The following is a reprise of a post from last February from a Wikistrat simulation:

Wikistrat: If Kim Jong-il Died…..

Wikistrat is running an interactive futurist simulation on possible pathways of change and regime change of theDPRK. I am participating alongside Thomas P.M. Barnett and HistoryGuy99 and the Wikistrat analytical team. Join us here.

Tom’s take:

New Simulation – The Death of King Jong-Il

…We have just launched our first open community simulation, where our analysts and subscribers explore a shock in the form of the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Join our subscribers to engage in this live simulation, explore potential scenarios, aftershocks the various impacts of this event on countries’ interests. You can then play the Prime Minister and plan potential strategies for the United States, China, South Korea and many more.

Current ruler Kim Jong-Il turns 70 this year and is allegedly battling pancreatic cancer (very low five-year survival rate) and diabetes, as well as the obvious lingering effects of a stroke that occurred in 2008.

Starting in mid-2009 and culminating in a special party event in the fall of 2010, Kim positioned his under-30 third son, Kim Jong-Eun as his clear successor, although it is widely believed that Kim Jong-Il’s brother-in-law Chang Sung-Taek will play the role of regent for some indeterminate time.

North Korea’s recent military aggressiveness (e.g., ship sinking, artillery barrage of disputed island) suggests a determined effort to speedily credentialize Kim Jong-Eun among the military leadership that now controls much of the government, economy, and – most importantly – mineral exports to, and humanitarian aid from, patron China. Kim Jong-Il was publicly groomed as “founding father” Kim Il-Sung’s successor for roughly a decade-and-a-half, whereas Kim Jong-Eun will likely have had only a restricted public persona for 3-4 years at the time of his father’s death.

When Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, Kim Jong-Il nonetheless was unable to fully claim leadership status until three years had passed.


Interesting article (Hat tip Col. Dave)

N.Korean Protesters Demand Food and Electricity

Small pockets of unrest are appearing in North Korea as the repressive regime staggers under international sanctions and the fallout from a botched currency reform, sources say. On Feb. 14, two days before leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday, scores of people in Jongju, Yongchon and Sonchon in North Pyongan Province caused a commotion, shouting, “Give us fire [electricity] and rice! “A North Korean source said people fashioned makeshift megaphones out of newspapers and shouted, “We can’t live! Give us fire! Give us rice!” “At first, there were only one or two people, but as time went by more and more came out of their houses and joined in the shouting,” the source added.

The State Security Department investigated this incident but failed to identify the people who started the commotion when they met with a wall of silence.

“When such an incident took place in the past, people used to report their neighbors to the security forces, but now they’re covering for each other,” the source said.

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