Author Archives: Neal Rauhauser

About Neal Rauhauser

Itinerant knowledge engineer, relentless scribbler, amateur photographer, troll busting ninja.

Challenges In Global Affairs

World Lights At Night

World Lights At Night

Eighteen months ago I posted What 2013 Has In Store, and looking back at that single paragraph it seems pretty prescient in terms of the issues I outlined.

I am taking the rest of December off and when I return the direction will be totally different. I have been slowly making my way back to my point of origin – climate, energy, economy, and geopolitics. I will certainly get back on top of global wheat yields and stocks, and I’m going to consider writing about renewable ammonia again, but not until I get a good look at the natural gas market and all of the anti-frac efforts out there.

During my 2013/2014 research cycle I examined Wikistrat, e-International Relations, OpenIDEO, and a number of other foreign policy focused entities that are all in some ways examples of hive-minds. The completely open groups can devolve into Massively Multi-player Mediocrity and I was rebuffed by several of the ‘citation cabal’ entities like Wikistrat.

Long time readers will recall from my work on renewable ammonia and Congressional policy news that obstacles such as lack of any formal education in a given area or no budget aren’t really much of an impediment for me. All I really require is someone foolish enough to tell me I’m not allowed in, and the rest just sort of happens.

Even so, a review of international relations theory and some sort of recognition of studies in the area would be useful. I have been taking classes via Coursera since the start of 2013 and last week I decided to complete Challenges In Global Affairs, one of a number of Specializations offered. This joint project between Universteit Leiden and University of Geneva is going to fill my schedule through the rest of 2014.

I have long had a SciCast login but I didn’t realize it was part of IARPA’s ForeST until today, when I was reading about IARPA’s Good Judgment Project. Anyone can go to Good Judgment Project and sign up, which I just did. IARPA’s Office of Incisive Analysis and Office of Smart Collection have standing solicitations for innovative work. Viewed as an aggregate, these things provide the right type of entry point for me, and if not IARPA there are plenty of other entities that do things like this.

Over the last six years I have been the principal researcher behind a winning USDA innovation grant (2008) and lead author for a grant request which was a finalist in the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge(2011), both in fields that I had known nothing about eighteen months earlier. Concurrent with the Challenges in Global Affairs Specialization, over the next six months I am seeking an opportunity along these lines:

  • CTO role in a startup working on some aspect of foreign affairs
  • Mixed research/grant writing duty for a group focused on food & water security
  • Mixed analyst/integrator duty for an NGO implementing a link analysis platform

My interests and writing style can be seen here. I bring a computer science education, thirty years of unix experience, fifteen years of internet service provider plant engineering, and five years of data science projects to the table as well. If you see a potential match between your project and my skills feel free to email nrauhauser at gmail.

West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse

West Antarctic Glaciers

West Antarctic Glaciers

There have been a steady drum beat of reports about the West Antarctic ice sheet, like this, and this. The news is pretty clear – four feet of sea level rise from this event alone, but playing out over the next 200 to 900 years, and another ten feet of sea level rise after that from other ice being exposed to the sea. Greenland will let go in about the same timeframe, adding another twenty feet. Here is a nice map that permits you to examine what 13m of sea level rise does to your favorite coastal city.

This article in The Hill glosses over the closure of the CIA’s Center on Climate Change and National Security. The recto-cranial inversion wing of the Republican party forced its closure as a matter of their unshakable faith that climate change is just another big conspiracy they’ve discovered. I used to worry about this, but I have decided that after Katrina, Sandy, Cyclone Gonu, Typhoon Haiyan, and a hundred other coldest/hottest/driest/wettest ever events I can simply wait for Mother Nature to hammer home the message in an undeniable fashion.

What does this mean for U.S. foreign policy?

We are loathe to admit it, but the United States is an imperial power, and after nearly 250 years with only a single major discontinuity, we are an elderly, tottering hegemony on its final legs. All empires die, even the isolated Egyptians seldom saw dynasties last more than two centuries without some sort of upheaval. Unfortunately another common characteristic of dying empires is that their elites, insulated from reality by luxury and layers of sycophants, will make exactly the wrong choices, because they can not envision a world where they don’t matter.

The United States will wake up from this eventually, but not as an empire, instead I expect us to have an experience like the Soviet Union did in the 1990s. There is a place in the Ukraine where hundreds of tanks, including the newer T-72 and T-80, are slowly rusting away. The Russian Navy deals with everything from sailors dying due to complications from malnutrition to narrowly averted meltdowns when dock side power is cut to idle submarines due to nonpayment of bills.

I am not going to rehash The Marine Corps Liability, it will suffice to say that we’re building systems today meant to solve problems we haven’t faced in two generations, and it isn’t just the Corps that is doing this, they just happened to be the example I picked that day. I expect we’ll hit some sort of financial pitfall and we’ll flip from building things we don’t need to maintaining systems we can’t afford to deploy. The Russians got bit hard by this one, particularly in submarines. The U.S. hasn’t lost a boat since 1968, but accidents for the poorly maintained Russian subs and their un-experienced crews have been all too regular.

Our soft power will still be considerable even if we do take a major financial tumble, but we’re starving diplomacy for the sake of military expenditures. The State Department’s budget is about the same as black ops, but we’ve doubled covert expenditures while slashing State’s money by a fifth. Benghazi happened in 2012 in large part thanks to an 18% budget cut the year before, which lead to RSOs (regional security officers) who didn’t speak Arabic rotating in and out of that post every thirty days. Some rotation of new staff for the sake of experience is a good move, in the case of Benghazi it was all of them, and the discontinuity was part of the deadly mix. Repairing the diplomatic damage from our adventure in Iraq will take a generation, that clock only starts ticking once we can admit we made a terrible error, and this will not come for free.

We didn’t intervene in Syria because the Russians vetoed that. We tried something terribly cheeky in the Ukraine and it backfired on us badly. I don’t watch the Pacific Rim more closely than reading Night Watch and ten months ago I assumed we were upgrading B-52s in preparation for a Cold War style standoff. I have discarded that assumption.

We’ve barely begun to process the sting of Russia saying ‘no’ and making it stick. What will we do when our first and second largest sovereign debt holders get into direct conflict over offshore oil and gas? Don’t answer unless you can factor in the absolute certainty of the initial premise of this post – anthropogenic global warming isn’t a hoax, and it’s not even a theory any more, it’s a grim reality. Mother Nature consistently offers three choices: move, adapt, or die.

A final thought. The white ones are the places the British Empire never invaded. Where are the British now?

British Invasion

British Invasion

Cyclone Tamara Strikes Balkans

Bosnia Baby Rescue

Bosnia Baby Rescue

Normally this would be a heartwarming sight – baby boy gets a very exciting helicopter ride, army comes back later by boat for the parents. But this child is in Bosnia, his parents survived the Breakup of Yugoslavia, the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian War of 1991-1995, and the blood didn’t really stop flowing in the region until the irredentist center of the highly theoretical Greater Serbia was smashed flat by NATO during 77 days of Operation Noble Anvil in 1999.

Nothing is ever simple in the Balkans, and these maps should help you visualize why this is the case:

Christian Europe slowly fought off the Muslim Ottoman Empire …

Austro Hungarian & Ottoman Conflict

Austro Hungarian & Ottoman Conflict

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

Austro Hungarian Empire Ethnic Groups Of 1911

Austro Hungarian Empire Ethnic Groups Of 1911

The Austro-Hungarian map completely ignores the presence of Muslim Bosniaks in the Balkans, primarily in Bosnia. Here they are in 1992, just as the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia really got going …

Balkans Ethnic Groups 1992

Balkans Ethnic Groups 1992

And here they are in 2000, after consolidation of ethnic groups into their respective regions. I really wish I could find before and after maps from the same source, but it’s hard to find two from different sources that agree on territory at any given point in time, let alone a good sequence.

Balkans Ethnic Groups 2000

Balkans Ethnic Groups 2000

It can be argued that Operational Noble Anvil was the final dying gasp of the Cold War. Their patience exhausted by the 1998-1999 Kosovo War, in which Serbian tried to remove the 90% ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo, all of the NATO countries, with the exception of next door neighbor Greece, gathered a thousand aircraft, and conducted 38,000 sorties against the Serbs. Future war criminal Slobodan Milošević refused to back down until the United Kingdom produced the first 10,000 of 50,000 soldiers they planned to commit to ground operations.

The final score for Yugoslavia was: Slovenia broke away, the Croats quickly taught the Serbs to mind their own business, Bosnia was a grinding, bloody mess treated by the world as an internal dispute, and when the Serbs made a move on Kosovo NATO made sure it was their last adventure in the region.

Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Macedonia are as much a part of Europe as poor countries with a recent civil war behind them can be. Serbia remains a lone outpost for Russian influence in the region … and now you can see where a climate disaster that hits both Bosnia and Serbia might be seen as a contest between NATO countries and Russia. Eleven months ago I noted that the U.S. has some new Balkan Bases. Serbia is there, hidden under the legend.

Balkans U.S. Bases

Balkans U.S. Bases

Per Wikipedia, the initial response to the 2014 Southeast Europe floods have been broad and generous – the U.N., the E.U. and 34 countries have all provided some sort of aid. The overall damage from this Mediterranean cyclone is enormous.

  • Ninety days worth of rain arrived in just 72 hours
  • 25% of Bosnia’s four million people are affected
  • Serbia’s largest power plant was threatened
  • 80 confirmed dead, more will be found in the coming days
  • Balkans Cyclone Tamara Affected Areas

    Balkans Cyclone Tamara Affected Areas

    Right now the world is still in disaster response mode. Babies are getting rides in helicopter sling lifts, Belgium’s B-FAST team has been scrambled, England’s FAST showed up, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia all turned out their pockets, their warehouses, and their rescue specialists.

    Floods have united the people of the Balkans, with the only hint of geopolitical calculus being the refusal of assistance from Kosovo by both Bosnia and Serbia. But once the initial burst of enthusiasm wears off I suspect the words above which I bolded might become relevant. The troubles in the Ukraine are going to color every interaction between NATO countries and the nations that make up or were aligned with the former Soviet Union. Serbia has always picked Russia as their first stop regional power in the past.

    I am generally interested in limiting conflict, but this case is a little different. Facing Mother Nature’s wrath, the people of the former Yugoslavia quickly set aside their differences and went to work. Can NATO countries and the former Soviet Union do the same and deal forcefully with this climate disaster?

What Did Obama Really Say at West Point? (via LobeLog)

President Obama At West Point 28 May 2014

President Obama At West Point 28 May 2014

What Did Obama Really Say at West Point? by Robert E. Hunter appeared on LobeLog today. The author, Robert E. Hunter, not to be confused with this genius, has served as ambassador to NATO, taught at National Defense University, and otherwise has a sterling resume of diplomacy and statecraft.

This is only the second time in eighteen months that I have simply reproduced what someone else has written. I’m marking the bits I find notable in bold.

A supertanker sails a long way, they say, between the moment the helmsman sets a new course and the vessel fully responds.

This was the task President Barack Obama took on this week, as he sought to set a new course for the U.S. ship of state in international waters.

What he said today in his commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York was nothing less than turning the wheel hard over for U.S. foreign policy.

Even though, as commander-in-chief, he is the nation’s chief helmsman, it will be some time before the U.S. supertanker responds, and even then not necessarily on the new course Obama is trying to set. The balance of his presidency will show how well he can succeed.

To extend the metaphor, Obama must also navigate between the Scylla of critics who want the United States to continue military power as its principal tool of destiny, and the Charybdis of those who would like to see war abolished in favor of other, non-lethal instruments.

He has no lack of critics. Even before the last third of his speech, one leading U.S. news channel cut to an attack by one of Obama’s conservative Congressional adversaries. Another was ready to take Obama on while he was still shaking the hands of newly commissioned army second lieutenants.

What is the president’s sin in the eyes of these naysayers?

Obama understands that the world has changed since the end of the Cold War, which saw the collapse of Soviet internal and external empires and European communism; the diffusion of power; the rise of new economic competitors and globalization in general; and a shift from state monopoly of violence to what are euphemistically called “non-state actors.”

In fact, speaking in politically defensive-mode, Obama went to great lengths — perhaps too great — to argue that the U.S. “remains the one indispensable nation” and, tempting the lessons of history, that this “will likely be true for the century to come.”

He also paid the politically necessary homage to U.S. exceptionalism — “I believe in [it] with every fiber of my being” — but then usefully redefined it in terms of support for the rule of law and recognition that “more lasting peace…can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere.”

In trying to defang critics who argue that Obama does not care for the use of military force, it was no accident that he spoke at West Point.

It was no accident that he visited with US troops in Afghanistan this week; and no accident that he will travel to Omaha Beach in Normandy next week for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

To be fair to critics who argue that Obama is less enamored of the use of force than many of his predecessors, they have a point, at least in analyzing his proclivities.

Indeed, if his approach to the outside world can be reduced to a single phrase — as is so often true of presidents — it would be “no useless wars.”

That injunction has surely colored his successful withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the end of a U.S. combat role in Afghanistan at the end of this year (though he intends to leave some 9,800 troops behind, assuming that the new Afghan president agrees, as the likely winner has said he will do).

In fact, given that the 2003 invasion of Iraq remains one of the worst foreign policy blunders in U.S. history, and that no good U.S. national security interest has been served by our staying in Afghanistan as long as we have, Obama deserves credit for quieting most of his domestic critics as he has slowly extricated the US from both military ventures.

Obama used his speech to justify the US blocking itself from being sucked into the military conflict in Syria, a stance supported by most Americans, if not the Washington commentariat.

He has also emphasized the U.S. choice of diplomacy over military power in dealing with the Iranian nuclear program — though he also said, “we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

While he characterized Russian policy “toward former Soviet states” as “aggression,” and implied the same about Chinese behavior in the South China Sea, Obama did, however, project an ambiguous position, preferring to define the range of debate while leaving his own choices unclear.

Instead, the president laid out standards for judging.

On the one hand, “the United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened; when our livelihood is at stake; or when the security of our allies in in danger.”

Even so, we have to ask “tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just.”

In other circumstances, the “threshold for military action must be higher,” and we should seek allies and partners.

Then, in his one sally into alternatives — otherwise a notable lacuna in the speech — “We must broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development.”

Obama also tried to put the best face he could on what has so far been Russian president Vladimir Putin’s tactical victory in Ukraine (though, in all likelihood, a long-term Russian strategic defeat), by stressing all the things that the US and others did to soften the blow.

The best parts of President Obama’s speech — at least, let us hope, the most lasting — dealt with longer-running problems facing humankind: the importance of democracy and human rights; the empowering of civil society; the fight against extremism, the promotion of useful international institutions; the need to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention; and, as a unifying theme, the role of US leadership in all these areas and more.

Yet he made only a passing reference to climate change, supposedly a hallmark of his agenda.

What was lacking, unfortunately, was “connective tissue” in terms of process, especially the need to relate regional apples and oranges to one another.

While renewing the U.S. priority on countering terrorism, Obama failed to identify its sources in the Middle East or discuss the risks of regional conflict “…as the Syrian civil war spills across borders.”

He did not propose means for resolving the new Russian challenge to George H.W. Bush’s goal of a “Europe whole and free” and at peace, or indicate that the U.S. would stop ignoring the continent.

Nor did he even mention recent Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts championed by U.S. Secretary of John State Kerry, or introduce what is supposedly a keystone of his foreign policy, the “pivot” or “rebalancing” to Asia.

In the final analysis, the test of President Obama’s foreign policy for the balance of his term will depend on whether he will finally begin integrating different elements of his approach; relate different instruments of power and influence to one another; upgrade strategic thinking in his administration; and place resources where the new world he conjures requires.

Obama’s only money item today was to ask Congress to spend $5 billion more on counter-terrorism. Instead, these funds should just be taken from a Pentagon budget still out of balance with his goals.

The president should instead be directing money to non-military areas, beginning with diplomacy and development, which can enable him to meet the goals he usefully set forth today.

At West Point, President Obama made a good start. But the U.S. “Supertanker-of-State” cannot be set firmly on a new course without a coherent set of strategies or at a low cost.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy Graduation and Commissioning Ceremony in West Point, New York on May 28, 2014. Credit: Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Fincham

President Obama didn’t specifically say Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review, but Secretary of State John Kerry launched the 2014 effort on April 22nd – Earth day. The symbolism does not escape those of us who watch such things closely.

USS Bataan & Escorts To Libya, Rigged For Evacuation

USS Bataan

USS Bataan

The USS Bataan home ported in Norfolk, Virginia, is on its way to Libya, per the 27 May 2014 NightWatch. The Bataan is the first LHD purpose built to house women as well as men, with room for 450 total. The ship’s complement is 1,200 and it can carry about 1,900 Marines. Only a thousand Marines are aboard, leaving plenty of room for passengers.

This Wasp class assault ship has a well deck that can hold up to three LCACs. Only 15% of the world’s coastline is accessible to the traditional landing craft we’ve been using since World War II, while the LCAC can safely access about 70% of all coastline.

Landing Craft, Air Cushion

Landing Craft Air Cushion

Amphibious assault ships can carry a mix of helicopters, the V-22 Osprey, and the A/V-8B Harrier. Rebels reputedly captured Libya’s last surviving Foxtrot class submarine in Benghazi during the 2011 revolution, but there is no evidence that Libya has actual put any of their original complement of six boats to sea since 1984. The point is that anti-submarine patrol needs are low, the ship will have escorts that carry ASW helicopters, and the Bataan could be carrying as many as 20 of the Osprey or 40 helicopters.

There were eight attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts between 2002 and 2012. The Obama administration has been beset by claims of incompetence in the handling the Benghazi attack, despite the Republican dominated House cutting the State Department budget 18% the prior year. The other seven attacks all occurred during the Bush administration.

That Benghazi remained in the news for more than two Sunday’s worth of talk shows is the work of Groundswell, an effort by wealthy conservatives to regain some measure of control over the doings of the Tea Party. They were exposed last summer but the Benghazi smear and a related effort against the IRS continue to limp along.

Libya’s Reversal is a problem for the whole region. Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia have all closed their borders to contain extremists while the Hifter government rounds them up.

The Obama administration is seeing the events unfolding in Libya as both a threat and an opportunity. They have to dispatch ships and troops, but a string of bold rescue operations five months before the U.S. election will leave anyone trying to promote the Benghazi smear in the uncomfortable position of having to discredit recent Marine Corps & Navy successes.

“Why do you hate our troops?” would be the very first thing out of my mouth to anyone from the fringe right who even tried such a maneuver, then I’d ask them about their support for the Muslim Brotherhood, as it would be easy to make the case that rapid, muscular extraction like back in 1967 was done so the new Libyan government could mop up extremists without them holding western hostages.

U.S. Drones In Africa

U.S. Military Presence in Sub-Saharan Africa

U.S. Military Presence in Sub-Saharan Africa

Washington Post provided MAP: The U.S. military currently has troops in these African countries earlier this week. This is interesting to compare to the map of drone bases in U.S. Military In Africa, which I posted just over a year ago.

U.S. Bases In Africa

U.S. Bases In Africa

Time For Congress To Build A Better Drone Policy was posted eighteen months ago. This OpEd originated with Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison and it focuses on legality, oversight, and how we are perceived overseas. While those are very important political considerations, drones aren’t going away, but our doctrine needs to change.

There are two types of drones that do most of the damage. The first is the MQ-1 Predator. We have 360 of these and their performance is roughly equivalent to a World War I fighter. They can carry two of the AGM-114 Hellfire or the newer, smaller AGM-176 Griffin, which was created to do what the Hellfire does, but with reduced collateral damage.

MQ-1 Predator

MQ-1 Predator

The second type is the MQ-9 Reaper. We have 104 of these and their performance is similar to a World War II attack plane. They can carry four of the AGM-114 Hellfire and two GBU-12 Paveway II, a 500 pound laser guided bomb.

MQ-9 Reaper Used By U.S. Customs & Border Patrol

MQ-9 Reaper Used By U.S. Customs & Border Patrol

Our problem isn’t just overall drone policy, there is a much more specific issue – we need sensible rules of engagement for armed drones. We learned in Vietnam that we could not bomb our way to victory. We are repeating that experiment with the Predator and Reaper, and we are slow learners. Here is a starting point for such a discussion.

First, we used the 1980s vintage AGM-114 Hellfire because it was easy to adapt from helicopters to drones. The AGM-176 Griffin is half the weight of the Hellfire but it retains 65% of the explosive charge. This missile isn’t much of a downgrade in terms of explosive charge, it’s half the weight of the Hellfire due to thirty years of improved electronics and a reduced propellant load. The GBU-44 Viper Strike is the same size as the Griffin but with 15% of the explosive load of the Hellfire. If we truly are using drones just for high value targets this is the right tool for the job.

Second, drones can fill multiple roles. These include:

  • Eye In The Sky – like a satellite or forward air control planes such as the O-1 Bird Dog
  • Close Air Support – if we have ground forces in play no limit on weapon type or count
  • Aerial Sniper – the targeted kill job usually done by CIA or Special Forces

The Reaper had a failed add on package known as GORGON STARE, which was a video camera array. The execution was poor but the concept is excellent – set up a 24×7 watch on a problem area, figure out what is really happening. We’ll see another system like this eventually put into production. This is a natural role for aircraft that can loiter up to 36 hours.

No one is going to say a word if a fully loaded MQ-9 Reaper shows up twelve hours before a ground unit goes in and then lingers twelve hours after they withdraw. We have produced purpose built close air support planes for seventy five years, this is a natural evolution.

The drone attacks that make the news are these:

AfPak Drone Strikes

AfPak Drone Strikes

Helmand and Kandahar were always the most dangerous place for coalition troops, we now know that this was fueled by madrassas in nearby Quetta that were fostered by Pakistan’s ISI. Yet the drone strikes are inside Pakistan in the breakaway tribal area of Waziristan.

The wedding parties where dozens of guests are dismembered by Hellfire strikes are explained away as faulty intelligence. Collective punishment of the families of key leaders would be a more sensible explanation for the frequency of such ‘failures’, and I can see little difference between this and the manner in which Russia handles the families of Chechen separatist leaders. We ought to be better than this and if not, we ought to be wiser, because such a policy just drives further radicalization.

We are trying to draw a line in the sand, literally at the edge of the sand, where the Muslim Maghreb meets the Christian/animist sub-Saharan Africa. Oil rich Nigeria already has a de facto divide between the coast and the interior, but unlike Sudan did with South Sudan, they can’t just abandon the troublesome area. Boko Haram will keep showing up to ‘tax’ their neighbors, because terrorists mutate into insurgencies and those always become crime networks if their environment provides the opportunity.

The world has a multiplicity of troubles, but most stem from the iron triangle of collapse – economy, energy, and environment. There is little point in taking on COIN duties if neither we nor the state we are nominally supporting can do anything about the underlying issues that caused the insurgency in the first place. We do not have unlimited resources and we should be focusing what we have on taking care of home first.

Pakistan’s Greatest Peril

The news from Pakistan’a Gilgit-Balistan province is grim:

  • 30% of normal snowfall
  • November to March snow was observed before 1994
  • Snows came only January & February 2014
  • March melt is four to six weeks early
  • Water is already gone by May planting time

This province is in the far north of Pakistan, part of the small area that gets snow.

Pakistan Snowfall Areas

Pakistan Snowfall Areas

The country is subject to monsoon rains between June and September, but centered on six weeks in July and August. The cooler, higher altitude areas get the bulk of the precipitation.

Indian Ocean Normal Monsoon

Indian Ocean Normal Monsoon

Pakistan 2012 Monsoon

Pakistan 2012 Monsoon

But on just one night in 2010 this happened, leaving 20% of Pakistan under water.

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

Various stories can be found indicating the per capita water availability in Pakistan is 20% of what it was when they achieved independence in 1947. These stories neglect to mention population – which has more than quintupled in that time.

Pakistan Population

Pakistan Population

Pakistan’s elected government has been taken over by the army three times starting in 1958 and these takeovers last an average of eleven years. The recent assassination of Hamid Mir, a GeoTV journalist, and the TV network’s immediate blaming of Inter-Services Intelligence are seen as signs that 2014 may see another coup.

A military government can quash dissent and push through unpopular but necessary adaptive infrastructure, like a dam that will flood part of one valley for the sake of stabilizing a region. The problem is that Pakistan already has a couple of domestic insurgencies and countering violence today will take precedence over civil engineering projects that will not contribute immediately to stability.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and couple of the former Soviet stans, along with Iran itself are part of a geographic region the Persian empire called Parthia, but which we now call Greater Iran. Click through that link and you’ll find a similar story about Iran, which stands to have 45 million of their population of 75 million become climate refugees(!)

Greater Iran

Greater Iran

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

The Soviet Union blundered into a war of attrition with Afghan tribes in 1979 and this was a big factor in their collapse in 1991. Just eleven years after Afghanistan’s most recent imperial kill, the United States, as sure of democracy as the Russians were of communism, marched right into the same trap. The United States has not collapsed outright just yet, but the economic malaise at home and our shaky grasp on foreign affairs are clear signs of what is to come.

This entire region is over carrying capacity. This should be both the first and last thought when considering any long term plans. India, Russia, and Turkey will bear the brunt of this and they are the ones who are in a position to do something. The days of unilateral U.S. action are over. If you want to make predictions for the region look at precipitation and the price of staple foods such as wheat, because they matter in ways that ideology and rhetoric can never match.

Siberia’s Time Bomb

Russian Permafrost With Australia Overlay

Russian Permafrost With Australia Overlay

Russian Permafrost

Russian Permafrost

Last month was the warmest April on record, with Central Siberia seeing temperatures 9F above normal. When the permafrost in the region melts the plant matter in it decays, releasing carbon dioxide and methane. This is happening on land and under the waters of the East Siberian Sea.

Arctic and American Methane in Context is a dense, technical read primarily about the East Siberian Sea methane hydrates. The paper closes by stating “The Siberian Arctic, and the Americans, each emit a few percent of global emissions. Significant, but not bombs, more like large firecrackers.” This is specifically the offshore sources, it does account for the permafrost melt. This post is interested for its explanation of the life cycle of atmospheric methane. Carbon dioxide can remain resident for a very long time, but methane only lasts about a decade on average before it is oxidized to carbon dioxide and water. But during that short period methane is about 20x the greenhouse gas that carbon dioxide is.

Our current methane concentration is about double what it was before we began exhuming fossil carbon in earnest, around 1800, and concentrations in the Arctic are double our current global average. This means Siberia will experience more methane based ‘forcing’ than the rest of the world, and the warmer it gets the more the permafrost contributes to the problem. As scientists only just uncovered the Fire & Ice link between soot and major melt events in Greenland, the link between taiga wildfires and overall Arctic melting has not been explored. If this does get examined I think it would have be on in the moment use of sensors on the scene. Arctic sea ice does not provide the same chronological record we get from drilling ice cores in glaciers.

How do we interpret this in terms of foreign policy issues?

This is the big question. We appear to have crossed a threshold in terms of atmospheric carbon dioxide. If the entire human race were hit with a slate wiper virus that leaves just 350 million survivors, this would adjust the speed of the warming, but there is no way to reverse it now. We have no choice but to adapt to this new reality – Mother Nature does not negotiate.

Arab Spring came on the heels of record fires in Russia and floods in Pakistan, which fueled discontent by raising prices on staples. Lebanon may fall into disorder due to their record drought. The entire Iranian Plateau is becoming uninhabitable. Jordan is tapping the aquifer it shares with Saudi Arabia, but their fossil water endowment will last at most a few decades, even if they manage it flawlessly.

Here in the U.S. we’ve faced Katrina, Sandy, Snowmageddon, and the national drought map shows California and Texas in the hot seat again. Power plants need water for cooling or they shut down, and Texas is having trouble even when it’s cold. Another hot, dry summer could see ERCOT, which can only import 5% of its total needs, facing a statewide grid collapse as power plants go offline. We struggled with 250,000 climate refugees from Katrina and we are in no way prepared to handle a ten times that many Texans fleeing an unstable electrical supply in peak summer heat.

What would a climate change aware foreign policy look like? As a starting point, the required hard power won’t involve a 300+ ship navy, a crippled $1.5 trillion fifth generation fighter, or a huge number of troops. The concept of triage is going to apply to places like Somalia and northern Mali, where the fighting will continue until the population matches the carrying capacity. Knowing when to stay home will become a very important skill, as we grow to realize how many things are simply beyond human control.

Tunisia Maps

Arab Spring‘s seminal event was the self immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi on December 17th, 2010. The Tunisian Revolution took just less than a month and left the moderate Islamist Ennahda Movement in power.

The May 21st NightWatch reports the following regarding Tunisia’s reaction to Libya’s Reversal

Tunisian reaction: A final trend is that neighboring countries are concerned that the continuing instability in Libya will drive extremists, militants and refugees to flee across borders. Tunisian authorities said they sent 5,000 soldiers to reinforce the border with Libya since the weekend. The Islamist Ennahda-led government in Tunis denounced Hifter for staging a coup.

Denouncing happenings in Libya as a coup, but closing their own borders to ensure that Libyan extremists do not flee to Tunisia, where they will presumably radicalize and discredit Ennahda, leaving the country vulnerable to external pressures to reverse their gains. Tunisia is quite a bit more homogenous than Libya and I suspect this is part of why a moderate Islamist movement arose there.

Tunisia Regional Ethnic Map

Tunisia Regional Ethnic Map

The non-Arab population of Tunisia is limited to a small number of Touareg in the desert.

Tunisia Population Distribution

Tunisia Population Distribution


Tunisia Vegetation

Tunisia Vegetation

Tunisia does have both gas and oil, but oil production was 91,000 bpd(barrels per day) in 2009 and this has gracefully declined to about 70,000 bpd with no major disruption due to the revolution. Libya’s peak oil production was twenty times Tunisia’s and their revolution brought production to a halt.

Tunisia Petroleum

Tunisia Petroleum

Tunisia is ethnically homogenous, less than 4% of the population are below the poverty line, unemployment is at 13%, and the economy is propelled by services rather than cursed with an excess of oil. All of the usual internal divisions and drivers that support radical groups are missing. The small amount of oil and gas produced is not enough to excite a foreign adventure.

Are 5,000 soldiers sufficient to seal the border with Libya? Can general Hifter manage a smooth transition to a new government? These are two big questions and for the sake of regional security lets hope the answer to both is yes.

Libya’s Reversal

Libya Hafter 2014 May

Libya Hafter 2014 May

Libya:Divide Within Divide(subscription) provided this map and the following update on General Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity.

The introduction of Haftar’s “Operation Dignity” to the scene on 16 May 2014 under the banner of fighting Islamic Extremism presented a rally point for support by armed groups and militias historically opposed to Islamic extremist groups such as Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL). Violence in Benghazi followed by an assault on the Libyan parliament building resulted in close to 80 deaths and many more injured. A commander in Libya’s military police, Mokhtar Farnana, announced the suspension of parliament on behalf of Haftar. Farnana, speaking on a Libyan television channel on behalf of Hafter’s group, said it had assigned a 60-member assembly to take over for parliament. Farnana added that Libya’s current government would act as an emergency cabinet, but gave no further details. Haftar made his intent clear: He will not stop until Islamic extremists groups are “purged.”

Just three weeks ago in Decapitation At Home & Abroad I made mention of Egypt’s rollback of Arab Spring including death sentences for 683 supporters of former president Mursi, including many Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Now Libya joins that trend, and what was a hopeful map at the beginning of 2011 is beginning to look very, very grim. Nobody wants another Syria.

Arab Spring

Arab Spring

Libya is a production of the imperial partition of Africa a century ago. Having been an Italian possession Libya is quite different than the British and French colonies in terms of their relationship to the former colonial power. After NATO stepped in to help remove Gadaffi, the Italians were a first stop when reconstruction began.

Africa Partition-1885-1914

Looking within the artificial borders drawn by outsiders, Libya is a mix of four ethnic groups with longstanding disputes between the Arab and Berber tribes of Tripolitania (west) and Cyrenaica (east).

Libya Ethnic Groups

Libya Ethnic Groups

The oil map is largely self explanatory – capitol in the west, resources in the east, a recipe for enduring conflict.

Libya Oil Map

Libya Oil Map

Libya Breaking Up Just As Sudan Did was posted here on New Year’s Eve 2012, when it looked like the south of the country might slip from the grasp of the north. Now it looks like a common pattern for the Mideast and North Africa is playing out again – an authoritarian, majoritarian leader will bring the country back into some semblance of order.

Americans recoil at that last sentence, but the alternative in the region to the strong man isn’t the democracy we have after four hundred years of English liberal thinking, it’s what is happening in Syria. We have a fundamentally odd imperial history in this country – just one civil war, it involved uniformed armies, defined nation states, it had a relatively clean start/finish, and while it involved the fate of an ethnic group, black Americans were more the subject of rather than participants in the conflict. The U.S. Civil War is seven generations in the past and its echoes a century later are clear memories only for those of retirement age or older.

Libya is not Louisiana, flipped upside down and rotated halfway around the globe. Until America recovers some of the curiosity that we’ve flushed since the development of television, and the wisdom that comes with it, we’re going to continue to make grim policy blunders. The Ukraine and Syria are consuming the attention of American diplomatic efforts. Perhaps Libyans, left to their own devices, are about to return to a form of stability they recall from the recent past.