Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Iran working on nuclear bomb

According to the AP, an anonymous source sent in a diagram demonstrating that Iranian scientists are working on a nuclear bomb. For some reason, this is a boogeyman to the US and Israel.

From the US perspective, a single nuclear bomb in the hands of Iran is cause for contemplating war yet it is extremely unlikely that Iran has the capability of developing a ballistic nuclear weapon capable of striking the US. During the Cold War, both the US and Soviet Union built thousands of nuclear weapons for fear that not all would work.

From the Israeli perspective, Iron Dome has shown great efficacy in defeating Syrian ballistic missiles so it should prove minimally to be a deterrent and maximally a countermeasure to an attack.

Given both of these conditions, the build-up of a nuclear powered Iran seems excessive. North Kore has had a nuclear capability for a longer period of time has yet has yet to seriously takes steps towards attacking the United States. Pakistan and India, two diametrically opposed nations, both have nuclear weapons yet have not launched them at each other.

The other problem with the Iranian nuclear bomb scare is that it totally misses the real threat of a cyber attack. Stuxnet effectively attack Iran's power grid and nuclear facilities. The US faces a far greater threat should our banking systems of power grids be attacked, it would be far more devastating than even multiple nuclear weapons.

AP story here

Monday, November 26, 2012

Iron Dome

By now, you must have heard about the Iron Dome that defended Israel against Syrian missiles.  Most reports say Iron Dome was 84% successful taking out over 400 incoming missiles while losing any six Israeli lives.

Perhaps but as these reports are open sourced, the numbers are probably inflated with some experts suggesting more around 40-50% success rate.  We have no way of truly knowing but one thing is for sure, Iron Dome did not produce 100% kills.  Meaning, Syrian technicians got some things right.  Israel needs to be be concerned that Syria does not figure out what they got wrong before the next upgrade is made to Iron Dome.

Whenever one side scores a technological advantage, that sends the other side into overtime figuring out how to beat it.  Israel will not sit idle but neither will Syria in trying to defeat Iron Dome.

The other problem is one of numbers.  Syria fired over 400 missiles at Israel.  Syria needs to only fire more missiles than Iron Dome can fire.  That leads to the only other option for Israel, to attack and destroy the Syrian Air Force on the ground before they can be launched.

Turkey asked for and received the Patriot system to protect its borders from Syria.  Basically, a campaign of slow escalation is being waged against Syria.  The next concern is how much longer will Israel put up with the threat they perceive from Iran?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

China lands first jet on aircraft carrier

US assessments of China's carrier was just slightly off. It was apparently believed (or hoped?) that China was still years away from actually landing a jet aircraft on a carrier. Now according to CNN, not has China accomplished this feat but may be well on its way to producing more carriers. The scandal surrounding Patreus and a possible ascension of Susan Rice to Secretary of State does little to position the US to assess the true threat of China's increasingly modern military.


Oil and Azerbaijan

Marie Antoinette, when told the peasants were out of bread due to a lack of wheat, famously quipped "Let them eat cake!".  The quote is one of the best known examples of a super wealthy class becoming so completely removed from the rest of the population they are unable to understand it.

We like to pretend that we have the situation here in the Untied States and to a certain extent that is true.  Super wealthy athletes and entertainers experience idolization and indulgence that rivals royalty.  Stock brokers and CEOs play fast and furious with stock options, rarely ever having to face the employees laid off due to a devalued stock.  As Americans, we firmly believe some or all of these explanations for why there is such discord in the United States.  We know that the United States is still the number one economic power and thus our experience is unique.

What is often forgotten is that elsewhere, wealth is even more concentrated into the hands of an elite few families.  Some resident in countries that we've heard of; Saudi Arabia (the Saud family), the Netherlands (Queen Beatrix, she of the Royal Dutch Shell corporation), and Azerbaijan.  What?  Take a look at this picture from the Daily Mail;

These are the wealthiest of Azerbaijani women who are bathing in crude oil.  Azerbaijan produces over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day (based on 2011 figures).  This is not a new phenomena, oil drilling first started in Azerbaijan in 1871 and has been going non-stop ever since.  By 1898, production exceeded that of the United States.  Before the outbreak of World War I, three companies controlled 86 percent of the oil in Azebaijan (Russian General Oil Company, Partnership of Nobel Brothers, and Royal Dutch Shell).

The oil industry is also why relations have never been good between Azerbaijan and Armenia.  Armenians ran almost 1/3 of the oil industry in Azerbaijan by 1900.

In 1920, only 1800 qualified specialists worked in the Russian oil industry of which 1232 worked in Azerbaijan. The industry urgently needed technology, education and specialists. The scientific exchange started with the US, where visitors from Baku were seconded to oil-fields in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, California, Texas, learned new methods of well deepening and exploitation. The Azerbaijan State Oil Academy was established in 1920 to train oil specialists.

Just is this brief history, we can see all of the major oil powers (US, Royal Dutch Shell and Russia) having a presence in Azerbaijan.  Looking at the map below, you may see some other interesting thing.

Geography can often tell us more than words.  The Bake oil fields in Azerbaijan sit right on the Caspian Sea which is controlled by Russia (it is also land locked which we will get to in a minute).  Azerbaijan is bordered by Georgia, Armenia and Iran.  Armenia in-turn borders Turkey (a NATO member).  This should now make the situation in Iran and Syrian even more concerning as conflicts in either region could spill into Azerbaijan and its oil fields.

As I noted, the Caspian Sea is land-locked making exporting its valuable oil difficult beyond the region, especially the lucrative European markets. This problem was solved by the agreement for the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline among Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey in 1998. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was officially opened on July 13, 2006 and now transports crude oil 1,760 km (1,090 mi) from the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

The map above shows one of the main reasons for US and Europe to be concerned about conflicts in the region.  Syria taking pot-shots at Turkey could interrupt oil flow to Europe.  It also explains why France was so keen on being involved in the Libyan conflict, a hedge against any interruptions to the BTC pipeline.

We also see a reason for Russia's support of Iran.  A war with Iran could place US forces within striking distance of Baku.  Europe would feel better with the oil fields being under Washington rather the Moscow's influence. In Iran, the mullahs despise all they see in Azerbaijan, including its open business and diplomatic ties to Israel and the West. Tehran withdrew its ambassador in protest at the staging of Eurovision so nearby.  British royalty and high level government officials travel here frequently.  Read more about that here Daily Mail--"Filthy rich: Britain's favourite dictatorship"

Keep your eyes on the pipeline.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thousands of Portuguese soldiers protest budget cuts

Here is an effect of the failing Euro that you don't hear much about; the cuts to military spending. The Portuguese Army has around 44,000 personnel, the equivalent to 4 US Army brigades. The Portuguese military is much more a homeland defense than a global military. Yet, even with this relative small role cuts to spending are having a severe impact on the service members salaries. One senior naval officer quoted in the article has had an average of 500-2,000 Euros cut from his salary each year since 2005.

The failing Euro and subsequent cuts to the European militaries mean they are less able to execute their missions. The morale of the Portuguese military is shot. The environment is ripe for insurrection, revolution or even a regional conflict.

The US should take heed before mandatory cuts to military spending start taking effect next year. The world is far less stable then we would like to think.


Friday, November 9, 2012

CIA director submits his resignation to President Obama

This could not have come at a worst time. The CIA is still struggling with its over-emphasis on technology versus HUMINT (spies) to collect actionable intelligence. The State Department will be getting a new secretary and the change in things could signal Iran to pick a fight with Isreal (or vice versa).


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hillary Clinton due to step down as Secretary of State 'within days' of start of Barack Obama's second term

I was not a fan of Hilary Clinton, First Lady under her husband President Clinton. Nor was I a fan of candidate Clinton running for the Democratic nomination in 2008. I have become a fan though of Secretary of State Clinton. She has had to navigate some of the most difficult foreign policy challenges facing a modern administration. She has managed, not the President, to keep the situation in Syria from escalating into a war with Iran. She has kept Russia and China at bay while dealing with the Arab Spring. She wont' receive the status of Henry Kissinger but Hilary Clinton didn't pretty damn well as the Secretary of State. And that is my concern, she is now leaving with Syria still ripping its throat out and Ahmadinejad being smug over how much it cost to re-elect the President. As I've posted previously, Russian attack subs seem to come and go as they please in US waters. I think we are going to miss this Secretary of State.

Daily Mail

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Russian attack sub discovered just 200 miles from the East Coast and given safe harbor from Hurricane Sandy

"U.S. defense officials are downplaying the potential threat of a Russian attack sub detected just 200 miles from the East Coast and given safe harbor in Florida during Hurricane Sandy."

This is not the first time a Russian submarine has entered US waters. Attacks subs have been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico as they were EXITING. I know it is the silly season when all eyes become glued to the TV to see who is the next president, but this is somewhat disturbing. Either the Russian Navy has really stepped-up the stealth technology or the US Navy is falling down on the job.

Daily Mail