11 July 2016

***A World of Constraints

July 7, 2016 A leader’s potential actions are far more limited than one would think.
By Jacob L. Shapiro

Geopolitics is not simply the intersection of geography and politics. At its core, understanding geopolitics is about understanding power. I would define power simply as the ability to either make someone do what you want them to do or make something happen that you want to happen.
The irony about studying power is that most don’t actually possess it, and for those who do, their ability to use it is ephemeral. It is easy when writing about politics to be seduced by what is possible. It is much harder to see what is impossible, but also much more useful.
The word “constraint” is what we use internally to describe the impossible. It is the geopolitical corollary to the Sherlock Holmes principle: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” And it grounds our forecasting methodology. Once you have identified the constraints, whatever is beyond them, no matter what one says or believes, is not going to happen.

Take, for example, the burgeoning awareness in the world of the Italian banking crisis.
This was a development we forecast in December, and it has been striking to watch as the Financial Times on July 3 and the Wall Street Journal on July 4 picked up the story, citing sources that said Italy would flaunt EU regulations against using public funds to pump money into the system. From there it was off to the races, and the story was picked up by over 180 different newspapers, if Google News’ counting algorithms are to be trusted.
One of the questions that readers have posed to us and that we have debated internally is, why is the EU, and by extension Germany, being so tough on Italy? For over a year, Brussels, with Berlin’s backing, has shot down proposal after proposal from the Italians as they attempt to deal with the over 17 percent of non-performing loans that are weighing down their banking sector. Germany very clearly needs to preserve its access to the European market, and the existence of that market is dependent on not letting its third largest Continental economy go up in flames. Why not let the Italians bail out their banking system? And if that doesn’t work, why wouldn’t Germany take the drastic step of bailing the Italians out themselves?

There are a number of reasons, but the key one to understand is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not simply free to do as she pleases, or even to do what she thinks is best. The voters who elected her don’t want to bail out the Italians. The business interests intertwined with the German political elite don’t want to bail out the Italians either, and they have the luxury of taking this position because they are more insulated than the common depositor when it comes to the fall-out from the type of cascading systemic crisis that is possible. And German lawmakers, keen to preserve competition rules and deter other countries from risky banking practices, don’t want to see Rome use its own funds to bail out private institutions. People don’t intentionally walk into catastrophes. They are often dragged into them against their will.

*** Don't Cry for the United States Just Yet

July 09, 2016
Mr. Donald Trump assures us that, under his presidency, the United States will again be an extraordinary country. 
As soon as he triumphs at the polls, he asserts, he will retrieve the jobs that, according to him, have been moved to Asia or Mexico. Illegal immigrants and terrorists won't be able to scale the walls erected on U.S. borders. His country's armed forces will again be unbeatable. He will pulverize Islamic foes. U.S. allies will have to pay the federal government for the presence of American troops that prevent foreign invasions. He will bring all his weight as an expert negotiator to abrogate or modify the free-trade treaties that do not favor the United States. Consequently, the rest of the planet will begin again to respect and admire his country.
It is an effective electoral message, but it is also false, with certain elements of paranoia that could turn out to be counterproductive. Stephen D. Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam (Scientific American Mind) warn that there is no greater spur to the recruitment of terrorists than to threaten them with extermination. Nevertheless, Trump's discourse connects with that substantial part of the census that holds a pessimistic view of the United States' social and economic reality. As it happens, this is a mistaken perception. 

The truth is that the United States, despite the problems that it presents and the numerous social pathologies that it exhibits (inevitable in a diverse and democratic nation of more than 300 million people from all cultures, ethnic groups and origins), is the first and indisputable world power. No other nation on the planet can challenge its hegemony at this time.
In 2016, its Gross National Product is very close to $19 trillion, the world's highest. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the country produces 20 percent of the goods and services generated on Earth; its productivity is five times greater than China’s.
Eighty-six percent of all international transactions are made in dollars. The dollar is the most important hard currency in circulation and the shelter currency in turbulent times, such as today. The unemployment index, about 4.7 percent, is one of the lowest of the developed world and, while it's true that industrial jobs have been destroyed, they have been replaced by more placid and creative forms of earning a living in the service sector and the so-called information economy.

Seventeen of the world's 20 best universities are American. U.S society patents the most scientific and technical findings by far. English is humanity's lingua franca. The rest of the nations basically imitate the United States. They dress like the Americans. They cure their diseases like them. They compose music like them. They dance like them. They see their movies, read their books, build their highways, hospitals and airports, almost everything like them.
The U.S. armed forces have a budget that exceeds 600,000 million dollars, more than the budget of all its potential enemies combined: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela. Its potential destructive capacity is astounding. That war machine is not only militarily feared by the rest of the nations but also probably contributes to the admiration created by the country. 
According to The Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brand Index, which polls the level of affection generated internationally by the world's 50 most important nations, the United States is at the top of the list. Germany headed that list in 2014, for the first time, but in 2015 the United States regained its primacy.
Add to this picture the institutional solidity of the United States. Some days ago, the Declaration of Independence celebrated its 240th anniversary. The country has had extraordinary presidents and inept caretakers; brilliant and mediocre periods; recessions and cycles of growth; slaves, free men and freedmen; venal and honest legislators; excellent judges and fools; periods of war and peace; subjugated women and women who have bravely conquered their social space; silent and combative minorities. 

Italy and Systemic Failure

July 8, 2016 The Italian banking crisis is not only Italy’s problem.
By George Friedman

We are now at the point where the mainstream media has recognized that there is an Italian banking crisis. As we have been arguing since December, when we published our 2016 forecast, Italy’s crisis will be a dominant feature of the year. Italy has actually been in a crisis for at least six months. This crisis has absolutely nothing to do with Brexit, although opponents of Brexit will claim it does. Even if Britain had unanimously voted to stay in the EU, the Italian crisis would still have been gathering speed.
The extraordinarily high level of non-performing loans (NPLs) has been a problem since before Brexit, and it is clear that there is nothing in the Italian economy that will allow it to be reduced. A non-performing loan is simply a loan that isn’t being repaid according to terms, and the reason this happens is normally the inability to repay it. Only a dramatic improvement in the economy would make it possible to repay these loans, and Europe’s economy cannot improve drastically enough to help. We have been in crisis for quite a while.

The crisis was hidden, in a way, because banks were simply carrying loans as non-performing that were actually in default and discounting the NPLs rather than writing them off. But that simply hid the obvious. As much as 17 percent of Italy’s loans will not be repaid. As a result, the balance sheets of Italian banks will be crushed. And this will not only be in Italy. Italian loans are packaged and resold as others, and Italian banks take loans from other European banks. These banks in turn have borrowed against Italian debt. Since Italy is the fourth largest economy in Europe, this is the mother of all systemic threats.
Since the problem is insoluble, the only way to help is a government bailout. The problem is that Italy is not only part of the EU, but part of the eurozone. As such, its ability to print its way out of the crisis is limited. In addition, EU regulations make it difficult for governments to bail out banks. The EU has a concept called a bail-in, which is a cute way of saying that the depositors and creditors to the bank will lose their money. This is what the EU imposed on Cyprus. In Cyprus, deposits greater than 100,000 euros ($111,000) were seized to cover Cypriot bank debts. While some was returned, most was not. The depositors discovered that the banks, rather than being a safe haven for money, were actually fairly risky investments.

The bail-in is, of course, a formula for bank runs. The money seized in Cyprus came from retirement funds and bank payrolls. The Italian government is trying to make certain that depositors don’t lose their deposits because a run on the banks would guarantee a meltdown. A meltdown would topple the government and allow the Five Star Movement, an anti-European party, a good shot at governing.

*** SIGINT in Space: NRO’s Cold War Space-Based ELINT Collectors

The wizard war in orbit (part 3): SIGINT satellites go to war
Dwayne A. Day
The Space Review
July 5, 2016
By early 1968, the United States military was involved in an escalating ground and air war in Vietnam. American aircraft were being shot down at the rate of nearly one a day, and Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing of North Vietnam, was in full swing as B-52s unloaded racks of bombs over the jungle. The US Air Force was engaged in a constant battle against Vietnamese SA-2 surface to air missiles (SAMs), jamming them and spoofing them, electrons dueling invisibly in the air. American airmen with the job of physically destroying the missiles, going by the name Wild Weasels, went into battle with patches on their shoulders bearing the acronym “YGBSM.” It was reportedly the response of one electronic warfare officer when first told what he would be doing: “You gotta be shittin’ me…” he said. Fighting SAMs was a brutal business, and eventually the US military brought its top secret signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellites into the war, using a strategic asset for tactical purposes. That effort followed over a half-decade advance in electronics and spacecraft technology.
Electronic battle

In late 1962, the Committee on Overhead Reconnaissance, or COMOR, started work on developing a SIGINT targeting process analogous to that used for satellite photography. This was an effort to move from the ad hoc arrangement of launching satellites based upon perceptions of new threats to a more formalized and efficient system that would prioritize targeting requirements. COMOR’s job was to identify targets that satellites would focus on, not establish requirements for new satellites themselves. However, unlike photographic satellites that could be directed against a variety of new targets without requiring physical redesign, a new Soviet electronic emitter often required development of new equipment to detect and measure it, not simply the reuse of existing equipment. Thus, COMOR’s SIGINT job evolved to include not only picking targets, but also recommending new satellites that could gather their signals.
In December 1962, COMOR produced a detailed justification memo on the use of satellites to collect signals, comparing their capabilities and limitations to other collection methods, which at the time primarily consisted of the RB-47 Stratojet, RC-135 Rivet Joint, and other aircraft flying along the periphery of the Soviet Union and other countries, sometimes at great risk to their airmen. Satellites had advantages over aircraft for detecting signals. As the memo noted, “If the purpose of the satellite is unknown, it is not likely that target emitters will be shut down for security during the periods in which the collection attempt is being made. The shutting down of emitters is a more likely occurrence in the case of non-satellite reconnaissance operations.” But satellites also had their limitations, including reliability issues: whereas a satellite might be able to operate continuously for a week, and eventually many months, it could also break down suddenly, something that had happened to the second Agena SIGINT launch in 1962. Unlike an airplane, if the electronics failed, there was no way to fix them.

You Get What You Pay For: India Reports Slew of Problems With Its Russian-Made Aircraft Carrier

Indian Navy reports problems with Russian carrier, aircraft
Reuben F Johnson
IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly
July 7, 2016
There are still a number of problems with India’s Russian-built Mikoyan MiG-29K/KUB aircraft, as well as with the aircraft carrier formerly known as Admiral Gorshkov that entered Indian Navy service in 2013, sources in India have told IHS Jane’s .
The complaints about the MiG-29K/KUB aircraft are generally due to the inability of the Russian firm RSK-MiG to deliver a complete aircraft that incorporates all of the features promised in the contractual documents signed by both parties.
Indian experts who have visited the test base at Goa, where flight training with the aircraft is conducted, report that the MiG-29Ks are being delivered to India in a substandard configuration. The aircraft, said one specialist who visited the Goa base recently, “are literally being upgraded and brought up to spec while on the flightline”.

The chief culprit in this dilemma, say both Indian and Russian specialists, are the combined embargoes enacted by the Ukrainian government that bar the export of any military-use items to Russia, along with the EU and US sanctions that prohibit the export of Western military components to Moscow. The ‘workaround’ has been for India to import these items directly, then have them integrated onto the aircraft on-site at the Goa base.
The MiG-29K for India differs from the MiG-29KR aircraft being built for the Russian Navy (VMF) in that the Indian-produced and foreign-made components are deleted in the configuration of the latter aircraft and replaced by Russian-made systems.
The Russian-supplied carrier, which has been renamed INS Vikramaditya , is a re-built and modified Kiev-class cruiser that has been converted into a fully capable short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) aircraft carrier by Russia’s Sevmash shipyards.

*** How to Prevent the Forgotten War in Afghanistan From Becoming a Defeat

July 8, 2016
Preventing a Strategic Reversal in Afghanistan
Council on Foreign Relations
President Barack Obama’s recent announcement that 8,400 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan at the end of his administration, nearly 3,000 more troops than his previous timeline, reflects the tenuous stability that Afghanistan has achieved after nearly fifteen years of U.S. involvement. A resurgent Taliban and the appearance of self-proclaimed Islamic State forces have tested the ability of the increasingly fragile central government to provide security and political stability and demonstrated the limits of U.S. training and support. Meanwhile, economic and political frustrations across all levels of Afghan society have gone largely unaddressed by the National Unity Government (NUG). The security situation in Afghanistan could worsen, which would threaten U.S. interests in the region.
A new Contingency Planning Memorandum released by the Center for Preventive Action, “Strategic Reversal in Afghanistan,” assesses the growing risks of strategic reversals in Afghanistan. Author Seth G. Jones, Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND, recommends steps the United States can take to mitigate or prevent such risks.

The report highlights the shortcomings of the NUG and the challenges that the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police—which both face rising attrition rates, low morale, and a climbing death toll—are forced to confront in providing for Afghanistan’s security. Jones identifies two principle contingencies to watch over the next twelve to eighteen months: the collapse of the NUG—which is plagued by widespread corruption, deteriorating economic conditions, and competition among Afghan elites—and major gains in urban areas by the Taliban, who now control more territory than at any other point since December 2001. Both outcomes are not mutually exclusive, as one contingency would ultimately magnify the potential for the other.
U.S. interests would be harmed if either contingency happens. U.S. objectives in Afghanistan are clear: to target al-Qaeda and other extremist elements in order to prevent future attacks against the United States, and to enable Afghan forces to provide security for the country. A government collapse or the seizure of one or more major cities by the Taliban would severely diminish the likelihood of achieving either objective, while simultaneously rolling back gains made over the last decade. These contingencies could also lead to an increase in extremist groups operating in Afghanistan; introduce regional instability involving India, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia; and possibly signal to other countries that the United States is not a reliable ally, further complicating regional power dynamics.

To prevent these contingencies from occurring, Jones recommends the United States leverage its relationship with Afghanistan, focusing on building greater political consensus, encouraging regional powers to support Kabul, pursuing reconciliation with the Taliban, and strengthening Afghan security forces so that they can manage internal security challenges with limited outside involvement. To achieve those aims, the U.S. should:
Focus diplomatic efforts on resolving acute political challenges, prioritizing electoral reforms and building consensus between the Afghan government and political elites.
Address economic grievances that could undermine the political legitimacy of the government.

Defense Officials Blast New Afghan War Plan: ‘Not the Number of Troops to Win’

by Nancy A. Youssef, The Daily Beast

President Obama announced Wednesday yet another delay in his plan to wind down the war in Afghanistan, saying 8,400 troops would remain there for a list of enemies that has grown from al Qaeda to the Taliban and now to the so-called Islamic State.
But many in the Pentagon are concerned that the president’s new plan isn’t much of a strategy at all. It’s just a holding action, to hopefully keep a lid on Afghanistan until after the election.
“There is no desire to end the war in Afghanistan. There is a desire to keep it off the front pages and make it a problem for the next administration,” as one Pentagon official explained to The Daily Beast.

The U.S. had planned to keep 5,500 troops through the end of the year. At first glance, the change in number may not have seemed particularly significant; the president added only 2,400 troops to the number of forces that will be in Afghanistan by the end of his presidency. But the fact the U.S. had to slow down its withdrawal from its longest war ever was a major acknowledgement by the administration that the U.S. has yet to train local forces that can successfully stop a burgeoning Taliban and the jihadists protected by them. In other words, the cornerstone of the American effort in Afghanistan was still shaky, a decade and a half into the war…

* Status Report on the Never-ending Forgotten War in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Problems For Everyone As Usual
July 6, 2016
So far this year the government has lost control of nine of the 407 districts (each of the 34 provinces is composed of districts) in the country. Four are in Helmand, two in the northeast (Badakhshan province to secure a key smuggling route), two are in Ghazni province near the Pakistan border and one in nearby Zabul province. Most of the fighting in 2016 has been concentrated in seven provinces. These include Helmand in the south, Nangarhar in the east, Ghazni in the southeast and Kunduz in the north. These nine lost districts contain about six percent of the Afghan population. In another fifty districts there is enough violence and civil disorder, often because of the Taliban and drug gangs, to limit government control. Such anarchy is not unusual for Afghanistan. What is new is the presence of a central government that can deploy forces all over the country. That is new and in contested districts that means which results in frequent clashes between security forces and the outlaws as well as fighting between non-government groups (Taliban factions or tribal rivals). Most of worst districts are in the south, mainly Helmand province. This is where most of the heroin and opium come from and where the major (and very wealthy) drug gangs are based. The elected government have never been able to control all of the districts in Helmand. When foreign troops left at the end of 2014 most Taliban activity was taking place in two (Kandahar and Helmand) of the 34 provinces. Some 40 percent of the Taliban violence was is in ten Kandahar and Helmand districts. Why that concentration of Taliban activity? It’s because of the heroin. The Taliban put most of their effort into protecting the districts where some 90 percent of the heroin in Afghanistan is produced. The other areas cursed with Taliban presence are ones that smuggling routes (to get the heroin to the outside world) go through. The Taliban don’t like to talk about this and they terrorize local media to stay away from it. International media avoid it as well, but on the ground it’s all about drugs and the huge amount of cash they provide for the drug gangs and their Taliban partners. Since 2014 the drug gangs have been fighting to gain footholds in key border areas in the east (for access to Pakistan) and the north (for access to Central Asia) as smuggling most of the heroin out of the country is what makes the drug gang leaders rich and keeps the Taliban operational. There is access to Pakistan in the south but that is mostly for smuggling in chemicals needed for turning opium into heroin.

Since foreign combat troops left continued fighting in Afghanistan has left over 30,000 dead in the last 18 months. Most (about two-thirds) of the dead have been Taliban and other outlaws. About 17 percent of the dead have been civilians with the rest (about 17 percent) being security forces and pro-government tribal militias. There is a lot of estimating because unlike the Middle East, where keeping records has been going on for thousands of years, there is no such tradition in Afghanistan.
In addition to the Taliban and drug gangs Afghanistan still has major problems with corruption and Pakistani interference. The Afghan Taliban still enjoy a sanctuary in southwest Pakistan (across the border from Helmand and Kandahar) just as the Islamic terrorists operating against India have sanctuaries throughout Pakistan and immunity from prosecution (although a few are arrested occasionally to placate foreigners like the United States or India enraged about a recent attack). The United States and India have joined Afghanistan in pressuring Pakistan to stop supporting Islamic terrorism against its neighbors but so far the Pakistani military (which invented and still handles this terrorism support program) refuses to cooperate and the elected Pakistani government admits they cannot overrule their own military. Inside Afghanistan there is more public discussion about the evils of corruption and how it is limiting economic growth. But progress in actually eliminating the corrupt practices is very slow. As a result American military advisors tell their Afghans, and the American government, that military aid must be limited because too much of its gets stolen and that causes political and media problems among the donor states, especially the United States.

*** No, Bangladesh Isn't Turning into Pakistan

July 7, 2016
The recent terrorist carnage in Dhaka has led people to speculate that Bangladesh is becoming another Pakistan. This is a simplistic proposition. While Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan for a quarter century, its political culture is vastly different from (West) Pakistan. In fact, what was then East Pakistan seceded from the geographical absurdity that was Pakistan because of the vast differences in their political, social and economic profiles.
Pakistan was a product of a particular variety of Indo-Muslim nationalism that refused to accept that Muslim interests—in reality the interests of the Muslim elites of northern and central India—could be protected in a multireligious India, for during two hundred years of British rule the centers of political and economic power had shifted from the heartland to the east and west coasts with their predominantly Hindu elites. The Bengali Muslims threw in their lot with West Pakistan because of an acute feeling that they, both the small middle class and the peasantry, were being exploited by the absentee landlords, mostly Hindu, based in Calcutta.

However, it is instructive to note that on the eve of India’s partition in 1947 (which would entail the separation of predominantly Muslim eastern Bengal from the predominantly Hindu western Bengal) there was a concerted effort by a group of Hindu and Muslim Bengali leaders to keep Bengal united even if it meant being a part neither of India nor of Pakistan. H.S. Suhrawardy, the Muslim Prime Minister of Bengal Province in British India in 1947, was one of the major advocates of this position.
While this attempt to maintain the unity of Bengal failed and India was divided, a feeling Bengali nationalism was never far from the surface in East Pakistan. The policies of the West Pakistani–(especially Punjabi-) dominated governments of Pakistan that discriminated against the Bengalis economically and politically further fueled the sense of Bengali nationalism based on the common language and culture shared both by the Muslims and Hindus of East Pakistan. It was this linguistic and cultural nationalism that lay at the base of East Pakistan’s secession from Pakistan in 1971 and the establishment of Bangladesh following a bloody conflict during which the Pakistan army acted with self-defeating cruelty toward the Bengali population, torturing, killing and raping indiscriminately.

Asia's Top 5 Economies in 2030

Who are the winners and losers?
July 8, 2016
Remember when Japan was set to become the world’s top economy? The risks of such forecasts have been highlighted by this and other fearless predictions, including more recently that China would continue its double-digit growth rate forever and that India would quickly become the “new China.”
However, Asia’s rise to global prominence is no fantasy, with many arguing that the recent emergence of China and India merely reflects a return to the historical economic norm after the postwar dominance of the United States.
Halfway through the twentieth century, the continent accounted for only 20 percent of global GDP, but spearheaded by Japan and South Korea’s “economic miracles,” the rise of the Asian tiger economies of Southeast Asia and China’s subsequent economic boom, Asia now contributes 40 percent of global GDP. According to the International Monetary Fund, it will deliver nearly two-thirds of global growth in the next few years.

Looking into the crystal ball, by 2030 Asia’s top economies are expected to comprise China, India, Japan, Indonesia and South Korea. However, the risks are many, including the potential for a geopolitical or economic shock, including disease, revolution, terrorism or war, that could cause a nation—or the region—to veer off course.
For example, how might China’s growth prospects look if a democratic uprising unseats the communist government, or if war breaks out in the South China Sea? Could South Korea unite with the North? Will Japan finally decide to lower the barriers to mass immigration? And the risks to India could include further terror attacks or even nuclear war.
Nevertheless, on the balance of possibilities, these five nations are expected to lead in Asia by the end of the next decade:

Asia's Top 5 Economies in 2030

Who are the winners and losers?
July 8, 2016
Remember when Japan was set to become the world’s top economy? The risks of such forecasts have been highlighted by this and other fearless predictions, including more recently that China would continue its double-digit growth rate forever and that India would quickly become the “new China.”
However, Asia’s rise to global prominence is no fantasy, with many arguing that the recent emergence of China and India merely reflects a return to the historical economic norm after the postwar dominance of the United States.
Halfway through the twentieth century, the continent accounted for only 20 percent of global GDP, but spearheaded by Japan and South Korea’s “economic miracles,” the rise of the Asian tiger economies of Southeast Asia and China’s subsequent economic boom, Asia now contributes 40 percent of global GDP. According to the International Monetary Fund, it will deliver nearly two-thirds of global growth in the next few years.

Looking into the crystal ball, by 2030 Asia’s top economies are expected to comprise China, India, Japan, Indonesia and South Korea. However, the risks are many, including the potential for a geopolitical or economic shock, including disease, revolution, terrorism or war, that could cause a nation—or the region—to veer off course.
For example, how might China’s growth prospects look if a democratic uprising unseats the communist government, or if war breaks out in the South China Sea? Could South Korea unite with the North? Will Japan finally decide to lower the barriers to mass immigration? And the risks to India could include further terror attacks or even nuclear war.
Nevertheless, on the balance of possibilities, these five nations are expected to lead in Asia by the end of the next decade:

Asia's Top 5 Economies in 2030

Who are the winners and losers?
July 8, 2016
Remember when Japan was set to become the world’s top economy? The risks of such forecasts have been highlighted by this and other fearless predictions, including more recently that China would continue its double-digit growth rate forever and that India would quickly become the “new China.”
However, Asia’s rise to global prominence is no fantasy, with many arguing that the recent emergence of China and India merely reflects a return to the historical economic norm after the postwar dominance of the United States.
Halfway through the twentieth century, the continent accounted for only 20 percent of global GDP, but spearheaded by Japan and South Korea’s “economic miracles,” the rise of the Asian tiger economies of Southeast Asia and China’s subsequent economic boom, Asia now contributes 40 percent of global GDP. According to the International Monetary Fund, it will deliver nearly two-thirds of global growth in the next few years.

Looking into the crystal ball, by 2030 Asia’s top economies are expected to comprise China, India, Japan, Indonesia and South Korea. However, the risks are many, including the potential for a geopolitical or economic shock, including disease, revolution, terrorism or war, that could cause a nation—or the region—to veer off course.
For example, how might China’s growth prospects look if a democratic uprising unseats the communist government, or if war breaks out in the South China Sea? Could South Korea unite with the North? Will Japan finally decide to lower the barriers to mass immigration? And the risks to India could include further terror attacks or even nuclear war.
Nevertheless, on the balance of possibilities, these five nations are expected to lead in Asia by the end of the next decade:

** Tomgram: Engelhardt, Where Did the American Century Go?

Posted by Tom Engelhardt , July 7, 2016.
Whose Century Is It? 
Life on an Increasingly Improbable Planet 
Vladimir Putin recently manned up and admitted it. The United States remains the planet’s sole superpower, as it has been since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. “America,” the Russian president said, “is a great power. Today, probably, the only superpower. We accept that.”

Think of us, in fact, as the default superpower in an ever more recalcitrant world.
Seventy-five years ago, at the edge of a global conflagration among rival great powers and empires, Henry Luce first suggested that the next century could be ours. In February 1941, in his magazine LIFE, he wrote a famous essay entitled “The American Century.” In it, he proclaimed that if only Americans would think internationally, surge into the world, and accept that they were already at war, the next hundred years would be theirs. Just over nine months later, the Japanese attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, plunging the country into World War II. At the time, however, Americans were still riven and confused about how to deal with spreading regional conflicts in Europe and Asia, as well as the rise of fascism and the Nazis.
That moment was indeed a horrific one, and yet it was also just a heightened version of what had gone before. For the previous half-millennium, there had seldom been a moment when at least two (and often three or more) European powers had not been in contention, often armed and violent, for domination and for control of significant parts of the planet. In those many centuries, great powers rose and fell and new ones, including Germany and Japan, came on the scene girded for imperial battle. In the process, a modern global arms race was launched to create ever more advanced and devastating weaponry based on the latest breakthroughs in the science of war. By August 1945, this had led to the release of an awesome form of primal energy in the first (and thus far only) use of nuclear weapons in wartime. 

In the years that followed, the United States and the Soviet Union grew ever more “super” and took possession of destructive capabilities once left, at least in the human imagination, to the gods: the power to annihilate not just one enemy on one battlefield or one armada on one sea but everything. In the nearly half-century of the Cold War, the rivalry between them became apocalyptic in nature as their nuclear arsenals grew to monstrous proportions. As a result, with the exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis, they faced off against each other indirectly in “limited” proxy wars that, especially in Korea and Indochina, were of unparalleled technological ferocity.

Interpreting Terrorist Waves

July 5, 2016
A certain litany of comments and even vocabulary seems to be required after terrorist incidents. High-casualty attacks are “horrific,” certain methods of attack are said to be the “hallmark” of certain groups, and so forth. And with any set of incidents occurring within a short time, explanations are offered that assume a connection among the incidents, especially in terms of a presumed careful strategy being executed by a particular group.
The appetite for such explanations is understandable, and the press is only doing its job when it solicits them. But usually the interpretations outrun what the available information would justify. Humans are wired to see patterns and tend to see them even when they don't exist. This is true of much of what has been said of the attacks during the past week in Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The timing of these attacks coming close together might not be just coincidence, but then again it might. Perhaps the holy Islamic month of Ramadan has something to do with the timing, either in presenting easier targets with crowds of people gathering at certain times and places or in sending a message related to terrorist claims of acting on behalf of a religious cause. But it is just as plausible that the timing of the attacks, as with the timing of many terrorist attacks, is related more to operational opportunities that have nothing to do with holy months or simply to when preparations for an operation happened to be complete.

China Will Never Respect the U.S. Over the South China Sea. Here’s Why

Hannah Beech / Shanghai @hkbeech July 8, 2016
The U.S. is one of the most vocal countries urging China to hew to international arbitration in the vital waterway. Beijing isn't impressed
A great power refuses to play by international rules, declining to ratify a major U.N. convention to which more than 160 other countries are party. After years of complaints, the nation convinces the U.N. to tweak the treaty to many of its specifications. Yet even after those amendments, the great power’s legislature prioritizes protectionist sentiment over respect for global rule of law.
This renegade country, though, is not China, which has come under fire for saying it will flout an upcoming U.N. court decision on its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Instead, the longtime outlier is the U.S., one of the most vocal countries urging China to hew to the international order.
In 1982, after around a decade of wrangling, the U.N. hammered out a framework to guide global maritime affairs and ensure freedom of navigation. Called the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), the treaty covers everything from the rules of maritime commerce to the ways in which resource-rich seabeds can be divvied up between nations. In certain cases, international courts like the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, can rule in maritime disputes.

On July 12, that judicial body will decide on a lawsuit lodged in 2013 by the Philippines, one of six governments that claim territory in the contested South China Sea. At stake is whether Chinese-controlled rocks and reefs — many of which have been turned over the past couple years into military outposts through extensive reclamation — are eligible for so-called exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the surrounding sea. These zones, which are defined by UNCLOS and can extend up to 200 nautical miles, give governments the right to all natural resources found in those waters. For all of Beijing’s dredging in the South China Sea, if the court rules that the atolls under Chinese control are not naturally formed islands fit for human habitation or economic life, China will lose international legal claim over much of the contested waterway.
Many legal experts expect the court to rule at least partly in favor of the Philippines. Yet China says it won’t abide by the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling nor does Beijing even accept the U.N. tribunal’s authority over its South China Sea claims. Last month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reiterated China’s official position. “I again stress that the arbitration court has no jurisdiction in the case,” he said. “China does not accept any dispute resolution from a third party and does not accept any dispute resolution forced on China.”

But first back to history. Shortly after UNCLOS was unveiled in 1982, U.S. President Ronald Reagan refused to sign what was touted as the “constitution of the sea,” claiming the convention undermined U.S. sovereignty. In 1994, after UNCLOS was revised to take into consideration American worries about losing control of valuable underwater oil and natural-gas deposits, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed an updated UNCLOS agreement, although not the entire treaty. Yet even though multiple presidential Administrations — both Democrat and Republican — have since supported the convention, Republicans in the U.S. Senate have routinely scuttled efforts to ratify UNCLOS. Meanwhile, even landlocked countries like Mongolia, Burkina Faso and Bolivia have signed on to the treaty.

Expansionist China and Russia Deepen Ties

8 July 2016
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin met on the 25th of last month in Beijing and issued statements bound to upset their neighbors and the US. For instance, the two leaders, who are both using force to expand and secure their borders, drew upon Orwellian logic when they charged that the nations defending themselves are the ones destabilizing the international system, undermining “strategic stability,” as they put it.
Yet Putin and Xi typically issue provocative statements intended to intimidate neighbors and threaten the international order when they meet. The more important story of the one-day get-together is that the two countries remain on course tobecome “friends forever”—Xi’s words—and they are cementing that friendship with trade.
During Putin’s visit, his fourth since Xi took over in 2012, the two announced several deals. Russia sold interests in various energy projects to Chinese enterprises, while China took stakes in Russian petrochemical projects. They signed a one-year contract for Rosneft to sell crude oil to China National Chemical Corporation. 

With those inked, Putin also remarked there are 58 deals worth about $50 billion under discussion. Among them is a high-speed, 770-kilometer rail line that will connect Moscow with Kazan, to be built by China. Said Putin, “We are pursuing economic cooperation, as China is the first trade partner of Russia.”
Still, the drop in energy prices in recent years has prevented the two countries from reaching their trade goals, and it is unlikely they’ll meet their 2020 target of $200 billion. Last year, bilateral trade was only $64.2 billion, down 27.8% from 2014.
Yet, what is significant about Sino-Russia trade is not the fluctuations in volumes but rather that in a difficult period for both, they appear determined to entwine their economies.

After Brexit, Will Britain Leave the Asia-Pacific Too?

UK alliances with these countries hang in the balance.
July 8, 2016

On June 23, 2016, Britons went to the polls to vote on whether the UK should remain in the EU or leave the bloc. The “Leave” camp’s narrow win has resulted in bedlam, not only for the UK’s relations with the EU and transatlantic community, but also for the world economy. Yet looking at the longer-term picture, it is just as important to consider the implications for security and diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region. In this regard, the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), comprising the UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, has been a central component of British involvement in the security of the Asia-Pacific. Now, faced with a more insular senior partner entering a period of economic and political uncertainty, the other four members of the Commonwealth-based security pact will likely begin to question their future and look to the United States.
Britain’s security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific has generally been overlooked in favor of America’s hub-and-spoke system of alliances. The Brexit vote may well lead to a point of no return in terms of the incremental downsizing of British security cooperation in the region. While the governments of Britain’s FPDA partners have been quick to downplay any impact of the Brexit vote in their relations with the UK, it is necessary to look beyond diplomatic platitudes. During World War II, British preoccupation with the European and North African theaters came at the cost of providing effective air and naval forces for the defense of Malaya and Singapore. The psychological impact of the Japanese victories in Malaya and Singapore cannot be understated—history books in both countries continue to emphasize this period of history as a rationale for strong national defense.

Review: China's New Governing Party Paradigm

by Timothy R. Heath
July 8, 2016

China’s New Governing Party Paradigm: Political Renewal and the Pursuit of National Rejuvenation

Published by Ashgate, Burlington, VT (2014) 270 pages

While the United States is spending most of its money, time, and attention on Middle East issues, China has burst on the stage as a possible peer competitor. As many have recently discovered, China presents a clear and present threat to surpass the United States in economic might, to challenge it in military might, and to replace it as leader of East and Southeast Asia. The bulk of the world’s population already resides there and, within the foreseeable future, the bulk of the world’s wealth also will. We can thus assess that the world’s political and economic centers of gravity will shift there, too.

It would be no real exaggeration to say that few in the U.S. government or intelligence agencies would have expected this, and most were caught a bit off balance by the suddenness and obviousness as well as the scope of China’s entrance onto the stage. Who would have predicted the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) or the military occupation of the South China Sea? Who is not impressed by their brazenness and imaginativeness? Who is not impressed by the scope of the One Belt and One Road programs and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank? And, more troubling, who was not surprised by these events?

How could so many have been caught off guard by such momentous events? How could so many have failed to anticipate the arrival of a tipping point in China-U.S. relations?1 So great was the failure that a whole publishing industry has emerged, explaining persuasively how we got China wrong for so long and offering suggestions for how we can get it “right tonight.”2 In addition, reams of articles offer policy advice for restructuring U.S.-China relations.3

Let Europe Fight the Small Wars So America Can Stop the Big Wars

by Sean Lavelle, The National Interest

America routinely conducts military operations in no fewer than seven countries around the world. These interventions are what military theorists might call “low-intensity conflicts.” They are primarily aimed at tamping down the probabilities that radical groups will successfully attack the U.S. homeland…
America’s forces, which are optimized for large, expensive and conventional conflicts, simply cannot conduct small wars in a cost-effective manner.

And then there is the question of whether America’s overseas interventions are as effective as the alternative options. Would it not be better for America’s more local allies to handle these problems with the greater dexterity and cultural understanding that proximity affords? This could result in fewer American deaths, fewer American dollars wasted and better security outcomes. But how could America induce its allies to carry the burden of combating radical groups?
It could engineer a system of alliances that benefits both the weaker and stronger parties. Winning a small war requires cultural intelligence, singular focus and an ability to credibly maintain a permanent presence. America has not proven particularly capable in any of these areas. Its allies might. On the other hand, winning a large, conventional war requires economies of scale, technological superiority and control of the commons. America is uniquely positioned to dominate all three. U.S. allies are not…

NATO and Russia: The Many Unknowns

Markus ZienerAuthor, Professor of journalism and former Washington Correspondent

Officially the Warsaw NATO summit will be about the deployment of military forces, missiles and arms projects. But in fact hovering above all will be one question: How to deal with the Russian military powerhouse that resurfaced in the East. More than two years after the political and military escalation in Ukraine, opinions on how to proceed with Russia are drifting apart. While host country Poland urges greater NATO presence and a tougher line towards Moscow, others are willing to pave the way for a détente and an easing of sanctions.
In particular Poland and the Baltic states are still trying to come to terms with the results of a poll taken last year by the Washington based Pew Research Center. In that survey a majority of respondents in France, Germany and Italy stated that they do not feel required to help in case of a Russian attack on a Nato member - although this obligation is laid down in article five of the NATO Treaty. The poll was nourishing the fear that solidarity among NATO members is rather weak - to say the least.
The proper way to handle Moscow depends on the answer to the seemingly eternal question: What does Russia want? How do Russians see themselves?

In the mid 90ies when Russia painfully suffered from post-communist depression, then-President Boris Yeltsin resorted to an unusual measure. He initiated a promotional contest asking the question “кто мы”, “Who are we?” The right answer was supposed to provide an open contest among Russian citizens. They were asked to come up with nothing less than a “new national idea”. An idea that could inject new confidence in the shattered psyche of people in the former Soviet Union. The pro-government newspaper “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” made the venture known nationwide. A jury was appointed to read and judge the submissions. And the winner would be awarded a prize of ten million rubles, then roughly 15,000 Dollars.
The somewhat awkward initiative rose from the great disorientation of the time. Russia no longer knew its place in the world: Was it in Europe? In Asia? Was Russia a superpower in name only? Although still equipped with nuclear capabilities but apart from that conventionally militarily and economically a regional power at best? And what kind of nation was this new Russia? A multiethnic conglomerate painstakingly trying to rein in the manifold centrifugal forces? That broken Russia did not seem to be anymore the pays exceptionnel that the Soviet Union always considered itself.

Dramatic Tumble in ISIS Twitter Traffic

July 9, 2016
AP Exclusive: Big drop in Islamic State’s Twitter traffic
Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Islamic State group’s Twitter traffic has plunged 45 percent in the past two years, the Obama administration says, as the U.S. and its allies have countered messages of jihadi glorification with a flood of online images and statements about suffering and enslavement at the hands of the extremist organization.
Among the images: A teddy bear with Arabic writing and messages saying IS “slaughters childhood,” “kills innocence,” “lashes purity” or “humiliates children.” A male hand covering a female’s mouth, saying IS “deprives woman her voice.” A woman in a black niqab (veil), bloody tears coming from a bruised eye, and the caption: “Women under ISIS. Enslaved. Battered. Beaten. Humiliated. Flogged.”

U.S. officials cite the drop in Twitter traffic as a sign of progress toward eliminating propaganda they blame for inspiring attacks around the world.
When the U.S. formed an international coalition in September 2014 to fight IS, the administration outlined multiple goals: military action and cutting off foreign fighters and finances, confronting the group’s extremist ideology and stemming the militants’ growing popularity in the Arab world and beyond.
The messaging element of the campaign struggled early on. Much of the anti-IS content put online was in English, limiting its effectiveness. At the time, social media networks were only getting started with new technological approaches to the challenge of disabling accounts that were recruiting and radicalizing prospective IS members.

U.S. in ‘Crisis Mode’ in Fight Against IS Online Messaging

Jeff Seldin, Voice of America
Military setbacks in Iraq and Syria are having little impact on the Islamic State terror group’s ability to gain ground in cyberspace, where it has dramatically advanced both the quality and volume of its messaging, according to top law enforcement and diplomatic officials.
The officials, charged with beating back Islamic State’s online recruiting efforts, on Wednesday told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that turning the tide was proving as difficult as ever, with IS operatives aggressively employing the latest technologies.
“No matter the format, the message of radicalization spreads faster than we imagined just a few years ago,” said Michael Steinbach, FBI executive assistant director. “We may see a more dangerous world in the short term.”

Of greatest concern to U.S. officials are homegrown violent extremists, people who are ready to consume Islamic State propaganda and then use it as inspiration to carry out attacks.
The FBI is investigating about 1,000 such cases right now but faces difficulties because many of the would-be terrorists are not actively communicating with other sympathizers or operatives.
“The most concerning trend that we’ve seen in the past year when we identify these individuals online is the speed with which they mobilize,” Steinbach said. “That flash-to-bang effect you’ve heard us talk about is going now in days, even weeks, as opposed to months and years.”

​​Communication Methods
Even when IS sympathizers and recruits do communicate, law enforcement officials say the trail quickly goes cold as they shift from social apps such as Facebook to encrypted communication methods.
“I think we’re in a crisis mode,” said Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the panel's chairman. “This online messaging is a huge part of the radicalization effort.”
The hearing Wednesday came just as Islamic State’s media wing, al Furqan, issued its latest video, “The Structure of the Caliphate.”
“It is a structure that has become more manifest than the sun,” the narrator says in English, as the scene shifts from a bright sky to that of smiling IS fighters, some watching as young boys laugh and run in IS uniforms.
Other parts of the video show scenes of everyday life, from farming to public works projects, as the narrator touts the health of the self-declared caliphate’s 19 provinces in Iraq and Syria, as well as another 16 around the globe.
​​“It has outlined the path of salvation and triumph for the Muslim generations,” the narrator continues before the nearly 15-minute-long video shifts to IS fighters in action and a gory montage of beheadings and executions set to music, some of it in slow motion.

The Court Battle Over the US Army’s Troubled DCGS-A Intelligence Processing System

The War Over Soon-to-Be-Outdated Army Intelligence Systems
Patrick Tucker
Defense One
July 5, 2016
In the latest battle of a years-long war over what intelligence data system the Army should use, Silicon Valley firm Palantir is suing the Pentagon for locking out them out of a potentially multi-billion-dollar upgrade.
The service has spent more than $3 billion and a decade to build the Distributed Common Ground System for Army, or DCGS-A, which collates and sends intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data to the front lines. In December, the Army put out a solicitation request for companies to contribute to the system’s next increment, dubbed DCGS-A2. Several companies, including Palantir, are seeking a piece of it.
Palantir makes a commercially available data management platform called Gotham it has long argued the Army refuses to use. Members of the intelligence community use it (the company was started, in part, with money from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s investment arm), as do the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Marine Corps, and members of the special operations forces community.

Palantir officials, in their lawsuit ask that the Army’s solicitation be set aside on the grounds that it’s rigged against companies that make a commercial software that can perform the same data management tasks as DCGS at less cost to the government. The company further argues that the Army’s solicitation is illegal for ignoring a mandate that federal agencies use commercial, off-the-shelf items “to the maximum extent possible.”
Defense One was able to download the complaint last week before a federal claims court judge ordered it temporarily sealed.
“The Army has done precisely the opposite of what [the law] requires: instead of taking advantage of innovation and maximizing the extent to which commercial items are procured to satisfy the Army’s requirements, the Solicitation makes it impossible for innovative commercial items to be offered to satisfy the DCGS-A2 requirements,” Palantir alleges, in the suit. Palantir also accuses the Army of deliberating changing reports that cite soldiers’ requests for its system — the charge is not new — and show that Palantir is capable of performing the data management that the Army requires of DCGS.

The suit is part of a long and brutal fight that has pitched general against general. In March, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Washington Times that DCGS “doesn’t do what it’s touted to do.” But Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, former Army intelligence chief, has said the system “provides the underlying intelligence for every decision that our commanders and soldiers make in the field and it saves lives.” In 2013, Gen. Ray Odierno got into a shouting match with Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., during a hearing in which the then-chief of staff defended the Army’s intelligence system against allegations of “gaps.” Odierno argued DCGS-A worked well and was liked across agencies.

The Chinese Hackers Are Back, But In a New Guise

July 6, 2016
In the past two weeks, my computer has once again come under attack by hackers from mainland China and their cohorts in Hong Kong. Here are the guilty parties:

IP Address Location Malware Designation Shanghai, China Prozjack Trojan Horse Nanjing, China Master of Paradise Trojan Horse Hong Kong SERV-ME Trojan Horse Hong Kong Extreme Trojan Horse Hong Kong SERV-ME Trojan Horse

I suspect that those who said the Chinese hackers were dead and gone may have crowed a little too soon, just like the idiots who claimed that the War on Terror was over after Osama bin Laden was killed. There’s one born every minute…
And of course, there is a lunatic repeat offender spammer in San Diego, California who for the past year has tried to penetrate my computer so that he can sell me weight loss products,cheap Canadian pharmaceuticals and drugs that will get me a rapid-response stiffy: San Diego Doly Trojan Horse


JULY 8, 2016

Six years after Israel and Turkey had a severe falling out following the Gaza flotilla raid, the two countries have finally reconciled. The deal will allow Israel to maintain its blockade, which Israel established after its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

A few days later, the Middle East Quartet released its long-awaited report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Part of it dealt with the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the delay in rehabilitating it, and the absence of any Palestinian Authority presence, which, the report warned, “are liable to lead to a new war.”

It is time for the international community to acknowledge that, according to international law, Gaza can no longer be considered an occupied territory, even with this blockade in place. Here’s why.

Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations outlines legal requirements for occupation, which include the physical existence of hostile troops in an area, so that the legitimate government is incapable of exercising effective powers of government. Conversely, military withdrawal is a prerequisite for clearly demarcating the end of occupation. As such, never since the enactment of the Hague Regulations has an occupation been recognized without a foreign army present. Although Israel fully evacuated Gaza eleven years ago and a 2015 U.N. Human Rights Council Report cited Hamas as the authority that controls Gaza and exercises “governmental-like functions,” the international community still erroneously perceives the Strip as a territory under Israel’s responsibility. The international community has drawn this legal conclusion without consideration of the fact that Israel does not meet the basic criteria of an “occupier” under international law and that, since 2005, Israel has had neither the intention nor the physical or legal capability to exercise governmental authority there. It thus fosters the incorrect, dubious argument that Israel is still legally responsible for Gaza as an occupier.

Growing Ballistic Missile Threats Cannot Be Ignored

July 8, 2016
Source Link

China, Russia, Iran, North Korea—all are U.S. adversaries, and all are making remarkable and continual advances in long-range ballistic missile capabilities. Maintaining and modernizing our upper-tier missile defense system has never been more vital in order for the U.S. to be able to win on the future war landscape.

Repeated cuts to the U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) budget over the last eight years have already put us behind where we should be. Moreover, the entire BMD enterprise has been retarded by leaders who reject a modern view of how technology should be developed and deployed. 

Clearly BMD technology is not yet perfect. The “old school” method, embraced by the Obama Administration, is to test a new technology in “the lab” until it performs perfectly; only then do you deploy it. The modern view is that, since we need protection now, we should deploy BMD now to gain the protection it can provide (which, while not perfect, it is pretty darned good); then, use those real world deployments to fuel the technological improvements. 

Further slowing progress is the long-running debate between arms control advocates who don’t want to “rock the boat” with our adversaries, and those who say our first responsibility is to protect America’s interests, even if that bothers the likes of Putin and the Ayatollahs in Tehran. 

To improve our upper-tier BMD capabilities commensurate with the threats we face, the U.S. must fund the program adequately, embrace the modern view on tech and put the protection of U.S. interests first. 

The Growing Threat

Fighting Reported Across Syria Despite Declared 3-Day Truce

July 8, 2016
Source Link

BEIRUT (AP) — In a multi-pronged offensive, Syrian government forces and their allies pushed into an area north of the city of Aleppo on Thursday, threatening a key supply line for the city's opposition-held quarters and setting off intense clashes with rebels, activists said.

The advance came despite of and in violation of the government's own cease-fire, which the authorities announced the day before to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan.

Also Thursday, the international relief organization Mercy Corps warned its food stocks in the opposition-held half of the contested city of Aleppo could run out in a month. It said it provides food aid to 75,000 people there, among an estimated population of 300,000-400,000 in the rebel-held sections. The entire city, which is also the capital of Aleppo province, has about 2 million people.

"Unless we are able to resupply, it's going to be very difficult if not impossible to continue support beyond that," said Dominic Graham, who directs the organization's Syria efforts.

Fierce fighting also broke out in the eastern and southern suburbs of the Syrian capital, Damascus, activists and rebel fighters reported.

Islam Alloush, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Islam fighting group, said government forces moved in on the suburb of Mayda, seeking to block a rebel supply line, while the opposition fought back to regain a number of areas previously captured. Government advances were also reported in Daraya, a besieged opposition-held town overlooking Damascus airport, the opposition-operated Facebook account of the Local Council of Daraya reported.

North Korea: U.S. Sanctions Tantamount to Act of War


July 8, 2016
Source Link

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Thursday that U.S. sanctions on leader Kim Jong Un and other top officials for human rights abuses are tantamount to declaring war.

The country's Foreign Ministry issued a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency saying the announcement of sanctions on Kim and 10 other officials was "peppered with lies and fabrications" and demanding the sanctions be withdrawn.

"Now that the U.S. declared a war on the DPRK, any problem arising in the relations with the U.S. will be handled under the latter's wartime law," the statement says, using the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korea has already been sanctioned heavily because of its nuclear weapons program. However, Wednesday's action by the Obama administration was the first time Kim has been personally targeted, and the first time that any North Korean official has been blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury in connection with reports of rights abuses.

The North Korean statement called the sanctions a "hideous crime." It demanded that the sanctions be retracted or else "every lever and channel for diplomatic contact between the DPRK and the U.S. will be cut off at once."

U.S. and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations, although they retain a channel of communication through the North's diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the U.S. stands by its decision to impose the sanctions.