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Monday, June 13, 2016

What's going on in the World Today 160613



How U.S. Strategy Impacts China’s Rise

Stratfor recently wrote that China's economic rise has created for it an imperative to secure key trade routes and to protect its overseas resources and markets from foreign interdiction. The United States must respond to China's rise because of its need to control the world's oceans and to prevent the emergence of another regional hegemon, even if this need does not determine the precise nature and timing of that response....


Yemen's Looming Water Crisis

For all that is said about water scarcity, the term is somewhat misused. Often, water becomes more difficult to access or becomes more expensive; on a countrywide scale, it remains available in most cases. But some countries are actually running out of water. Yemen is one such country.

A strong central government can find solutions and adapt to slow the decline of resources. But because Yemen's weak central government cannot ensure domestic stability, the country shows little potential of being able to resolve or even mitigate its water scarcity problems in the near term, leading hydrologists to predict that it could run out of water within the decade. While there are several countries that withdraw more water than is available, their situations are not yet as dire as Yemen's. Still, Yemen can serve as a benchmark in assessing other countries in the region where changes in water management policies will be vital to watch...


Touring India's Foreign Policy Objectives


Governing India is a complex endeavor. It is South Asia's largest nation, immensely populous and divided by religion, ethnicity, caste and 23 official languages. It also favors federalism, like the United States, and the resulting balancing act between the state and national levels can be complex, creating inefficiencies in governance and hindering the legislative process. This helps explain why the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has failed to pass its land, labor and tax reforms despite enjoying a sizable majority in the lower house of India's parliament. Stymied by domestic politics, Narendra Modi, now in his third year as India's prime minister, has pursued an ambitious foreign policy. He embarked June 4 on a five-day, five-nation tour that will take him through Afghanistan, Qatar, Switzerland, Mexico and the United States, five countries that reflect different facets of Modi's foreign policy…

Turkey's Militants Get More Organized


Turkey's biggest Kurdish militant group is looking to expand, and it might turn to Russia for help. The Kurdistan Workers' Party, better known by its Kurdish acronym, PKK, has established an umbrella organization for the country's leftist militancies in an effort to broaden its own capabilities and extend its support base beyond the pro-Kurd community. The new group, known as the Peoples' United Revolutionary Movement (HBDH), is led by the chief of the PKK's most radical leftist faction. Its stated intention is to promote its political agenda, which opposes the Turkish state and the ruling Justice and Development Party in particular, through the use of propaganda and terrorist attacks, including against foreign nationals. Because Russia has a long history of using Turkey's militant groups — especially the PKK — to promote its own interests in the region, there is little doubt that Moscow will seize the opportunity created by the HBDH to do so again. By supporting the PKK's newest endeavor, Russia might be able to keep Turkey preoccupied with problems at home and out of Moscow's affairs elsewhere in the Middle East...


Poland: Large-Scale NATO Exercise Begins

A NATO exercise that includes 31,000 soldiers from 18 NATO members and five partner countries began in Poland on June 7, Radio Poland reported. The exercise is the largest military exercise held in Poland since 1989 and will run until June 17. It also comes ahead of a two-day NATO summit in Warsaw set to begin July 8. According to reports, the exercise will focus on coordination between the coalition and the military leadership of individual member states in the case of hybrid warfare.



Afghanistan: Al Qaeda Appears To Pledge Allegiance To New Taliban Leader

An unverified audio statement recorded May 27 and circulated on social media June 11 appears to indicate that al Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri has pledged allegiance to the Taliban's new leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, CNN reported. Akhundzada became head of the Taliban in May, taking over from Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan's Balochistan province. The loss of their leader Taliban did little to blunt the insurgency and Washington granted more authority June 10 to the U.S. military in carrying out airstrikes amid the group's ongoing spring offensive.


In the East China Sea, Beijing’s Big Ships Push the Envelope

Much of the world’s attention has been focused on the test of wills between Beijing and Washington in the South China Sea, where China has been asserting territorial claims by building a network of artificial islands and sending out ships to patrol them. But a thousand-odd miles to the north, in the East China Sea, tension is quietly and steadily mounting into an even potentially more dangerous cocktail of disputed islands, feverish nationalism, and well-armed adversaries.

China has begun sailing bigger ships — old navy vessels nominally now serving as Coast Guard ones — near islands that Beijing and Tokyo both claim, as well as carrying out provocative flights with advanced jets overhead. Those aggressive tactics have alarmed Japan and raised the risk of a potentially violent incident between the two — and unlike in the South China Sea, where the United States has been vague about its readiness to help the Philippines in a dispute with Beijing, Washington has made clear it will honor its treaty obligations to come to Japan’s rescue…

…China’s bold tactics at sea, its growing military punch, and the nationalist rhetoric surrounding the feud in both countries arguably pose a more dangerous threat than the simmering disputes in the South China Sea. In Southeast Asia, Beijing is a heavyweight that wields overwhelming military and economic power compared with its smaller neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam.

But in the East China Sea standoff, Japan, after decades of indifference and official pacifism, is flexing its military muscles and showing a determination to counter Beijing’s attempts to assert its territorial claims. Tokyo is investing record levels in its military, especially the navy, building up amphibious forces, bolstering missile defenses, buying stealthy F-35 fighter jets, and increasingly taking part in big military exercises with the United States and other countries. Next month, Japanese forces will join ships from the U.S. and Indian navies in a drill in the East China Sea.

…When ships or planes met up in contested areas in the East China Sea, there had been “a lot of cursing and threats” by pilots and ship commanders, he said. Now there is a more disciplined, professional approach under the new set of rules. “Both Japan and China have realized there needs to be a proportional set of protocols,” the admiral said.

The two countries have feuded over ownership of the eight uninhabited islands, which the Japanese call the Senkakus and the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands, off and on for more than a century. Japan controls the islands, and China claims them. But the dispute turned into a full-fledged crisis in 2012, when Tokyo’s governor vowed to use public money to buy the islands from a Japanese private owner, setting off outrage in China and hostile encounters at sea…

…While the number of Chinese ships operating near the islands has remained the same over the past three years, the size of the vessels has mushroomed. In 2014, the Chinese Coast Guard ships deployed to the Senkakus displaced an average of roughly 2,200 tons, according to numbers released by Beijing. By 2015, the average swelled to more than 3,200 tons.

Some of the large vessels are former naval warships, such as the Haijing 31239, which is outfitted with 37 mm guns. And China also is building formidable Coast Guard vessels with reinforced hulls and powerful weapons, some of which are larger than American naval destroyers.

The Chinese fleet includes two “mega-cutters,” the largest coast guard vessels in the world, which have a 76 mm cannon on the bow, two machine guns, and a hangar and landing pad for helicopters. The 12,000-ton ships are significantly larger than most U.S. naval vessels and three times the size of a standard 4,000-ton U.S. Coast Guard cutter.

“Raw size matters, tonnage matters, when ships are up along side each other,” said Gregory Poling, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies…

China’s New Silk Road Into Europe Is About More Than Money

China is actively building out the European portion of its ambitious new “Silk Road” plan, with port deals from Greece to the Netherlands, railroad investments in Greece, Serbia, and Hungary, as well as a handful of historic, high-profile state visits this spring by President Xi Jinping.

Beijing’s multibillion-dollar plans to build overland and maritime links across Central and South Asia — whether that means huge investments in Pakistan or gas pipeline deals in places like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan — grab the lion’s share of attention. But the ultimate prize in the Silk Road plan — also known in China as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative — is someplace else: Europe.

A Look at Progress on a Chinese Aircraft Carrier

China's aircraft carrier program is the centerpiece of its strategy to project force as a global naval power. Not only do Chinese aircraft carriers lend Beijing military prestige, but they will also be instrumental in securing crucial overseas supply lines. For now, China's aircraft carrier program is in its early stages, but Beijing plans to eventually commission at least three carriers…

…The new Type 001A aircraft carrier will follow the Liaoning's basic design, though slightly improved. Like the Liaoning, the new ship will have a displacement of approximately 50,000 to 60,000 tons, and it will feature a Short Takeoff But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system. STOBAR allows aircraft to take off under their own power, using a curved ramp for assistance; when landing, planes hook onto arrestor wires. STOBAR, though effective, is not as capable as the catapult system, known as CATOBAR, used on U.S. Nimitz-class fleet carriers. Relative to STOBAR, CATOBAR enables launched aircraft to carry significantly more fuel and greater payloads.

China: Explosion At Shanghai Airport Wounds 3

An explosion at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport has injured three people, Chinese officials said June 12, BBC reported. What appeared to be a homemade explosive blew up near a check-in counter in Terminal Two. It is not yet clear who detonated the explosive or why. In 2013, a wheelchair-bound man set off a bomb at Beijing airport to highlight a personal grievance.


In Iran, Economic Reforms Hit a Hard Line


With the nuclear deal between Iran and the West firmly in place, a struggle for economic power and influence within Iran is intensifying. The debate is over how much Iran should open its economy to the West and how the resulting gains should be distributed. Now that the February parliamentary elections, which resulted in a victory for many moderate politicians, have passed, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will hope to move forward with his ambitious economic reform goals. Those goals are largely based upon economic re-engagement with the world, including the West…


Iraq: Troops Advance On Villages Near Mosul

Iraqi troops advanced against the Islamic State south of Mosul on June 12 as the U.S.-led coalition intensifies its campaign against the militants on multiple fronts across the country, Reuters reported. Officers involved in the operation said Iraqi forces had moved toward the village of Haj Ali in tanks and armored vehicles under cover of coalition airstrikes and artillery fire, capturing another village on the way. Haj Ali sits on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, opposite the Islamic State hub of Qayara, where there is an airfield that is set to serve as a staging ground for future operations to recapture Mosul. The Islamic State overran Mosul in 2014 but has come under increasing pressure in recent months, losing ground to an array of forces in Iraq and Syria. Iraqi forces are also advancing on the edge of Fallujah further south. In Syria, U.S.-backed forces are encircling the militant-held town of Manbij.

In Iran, Economic Reforms Hit a Hard Line


For years, Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran have been in talks to construct a pipeline that would transport Kurdish oil to the Iranian market. Until now, the negotiations have lagged as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) instead focused on developing an oil export route through Turkey. But new momentum may be building in favor of the Iranian option, particularly as Kurdish coffers run low and Tehran maneuvers to minimize Ankara's influence. If finalized, the new pipeline would bring the KRG one step closer to the financial independence it seeks…






Syria: U.S.-Backed Forces Cut Main Supply Route To Islamic State-Held Town

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces cut on June 10 the main supply route from Turkey to the Islamic State-held town of Manbij, effectively surrounding the town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a high-ranking U.S. military official said, Naharnet and AFP reported. Around 20,000 people of a pre-war population of about 120,000 still remain in the town, which has served a key point on the Islamic State's supply line from Turkey. Instead of retreating from the offensive, the Islamic State chose to bring reinforcements into Manbij. Now, with militants trapped in the town and exit routes closed off, the town will likely be the site of heavy urban fighting.


A Shaken Calm in Jordan


In a tumultuous region, Jordan has managed to remain a bastion of stability, largely through the deft maneuvering of its leader, King Abdullah II. A longtime Western ally, the country has provided a haven for refugees from numerous regional conflicts. But a recent attack has shaken this calm. Early on the morning of June 6, an unspecified number of gunmen carrying semi-automatic weapons opened fire at a security office in the Baqaa refugee camp — located just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Jordan's capital, Amman — killing five personnel from the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate, including three noncommissioned officers....

Securing the Saudi Vote in Lebanon

Lebanon has been in a state of upheaval for years. Since former President Michel Suleiman left office in 2014, the country's two main political blocs have failed dozens of times to agree on a suitable successor. The Sunni-dominated March 14 Alliance, backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Shiite-dominated March 8 Alliance, backed by Iran, remain at loggerheads over the country's future leader. Throughout the negotiations, Hezbollah, a powerful force in the March 8 Alliance, has been a particular sticking point, renouncing any candidate but its own, Michel Aoun. Saudi Arabia and Iran, meanwhile, are using their influence to ensure that Lebanon's next president represents their interests. As increasingly hard-line leaders in the March 14 Alliance take a tough stance on Hezbollah, Lebanon's political scene is perhaps more polarized than ever….

Saudi Arabia: Cabinet Approves National Transformation Program

Saudi Arabia's Cabinet approved late on June 6 the country's National Transformation Program, a five-year economic blueprint that falls under the country's larger Vision 2030 reforms, Asharq al-Awsat reported June 7. The National Transformation Program provides targets for various Saudi ministries for goals to be achieved by 2020 in a number of areas, including in the oil and gas sector and in the power sector, as well as goals related to the internet, taxes, the hajj, among others. Saudi Arabia, which has a long history of setting out ambitious economic goals encapsulated in five-year plans, was expected to approve the program.

Building Bridges Between Egypt and Saudi Arabia


During Saudi King Salman's first official visit to Cairo recently, he and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced their intent to revive the often-discussed plans to build a bridge that would create a direct link between their countries. While the bridge plans are somewhat nebulous, the two leaders also signed off on a more concrete accord, an agreement that redraws the maritime boundary between the two nations to return control over two strategic islands situated at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia. If the bridge is ever built, it could prove a mixed blessing for both states; the island transfer, on the other hand, has created political outrage in Egypt...


The Ghosts of Crimes Long Past

I had been on the job as a special agent for four years when, in 1989, the chairman of Germany's Deutsche Bank was assassinated in a plot so sophisticated that the case remains unsolved to this day. Alfred Herrhausen was riding in an armored Mercedes limousine when an explosion ripped through the vehicle's plating, destroying its passenger side. The bomb, it turns out, had been hidden in a bicycle on the side of the road and synced to detonate precisely as the three-vehicle motorcade passed.

Authorities suspected that a German terrorist group called the Red Army Faction (RAF) was behind the attack. Originating in Europe in 1970, the group had been better known early on as the Baader-Meinhof Group, named for two of its founding leaders, Andreas Baader and female operative Ulrike Meinhof. The radical leftist organization had a long history of conducting targeted assassinations, embassy hostage-takings and bombings that targeted U.S. personnel and police. It adopted violent tactics in hopes of provoking a harsh government response that would foment a broader social revolution in Germany...

Preventing a Blackout by Taking the Power Grid Offline

With hackers attacking electrical grids, banks, and a growing list of other targets, some policymakers and security researchers are calling for turning the clock back to an earlier era when devices weren’t connected to the internet — or vulnerable to digital attack.

The American power grid is more efficient than ever before because electricity plants, transformers, and other key pieces of infrastructure are networked together, allowing for electricity to be redirected in real time from areas with too much to those needing more.

The problem is that those gains have also left the overall system open to attack. Power stations and grids run by network-connected computer control systems can be hacked to cause widespread power outages.

American intelligence officials have long warned that the U.S. grid would represent a ripe target in a time of war, and U.S. adversaries are heavily investing in the capabilities to take it down. In Ukraine, hackers attacked a portion of the country’s grid over Christmas and succeeded in knocking out power for thousands of customers in the middle of the bitter winter. Officials in Kiev quickly pointed the finger at Moscow for the unprecedented attack, but the Kremlin denied responsibility.

Desperately looking for new ways of shoring up the U.S. grid’s defenses against digital attack, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing a decidedly counterintuitive approach to cybersecurity: ditching cutting-edge digital technology for old-school analog control mechanisms.

Families as Soft Targets

Mahmuda Khanam left her apartment in Chittagong, Bangladesh, on June 5 to walk her 6-year-old son to a school bus stop. On the way, they were approached by three men who stabbed her repeatedly, then shot her point-blank in the head, leaving her dead on the pavement with the shocked child. The assailants sped away on a motorcycle…

Libya: Anti-Islamic State Forces Make Gains In Sirte

Forces loyal to Libya's Government of National Accord are continuing to advance into the Islamic State stronghold of Sirte, security sources said, Reuters reported June 9. Most of the militiamen taking part in the advance are fighters from the city of Misrata. According to sources, fighters captured the Taqrift military camp from the Islamic State, and militia statements released on social media detail a number of other gains, though these remain unconfirmed. Routing the Islamic State in Sirte, where it had been hoping to build up a power center in Libya, is key to significantly damaging its prospects in the country.

When the Mighty Fall, Where Do They Land?


By Stephen Rakowski

Politics can be a rough business. What happens when leaders lose their positions of authority, the halls of power close, and their supposed friends and allies desert them? What happens when a leader's very survival is in jeopardy? Political defeat can come from the ballot box or the bullet, and there's a big difference between leaders who find themselves shut out of their political system but who can remain in their countries and those who, through the loss of power to rivals or a popular uprising, end up banished from their homelands. Leaders in many parts of the world are not always afforded the luxury of safety when the political tides turn against them...

Debunking the Myth of Total Security

Last week, someone asked me whether I thought it was safe to travel to Izmir, Turkey. Thanks to my line of work, these kinds of questions no longer surprise me. People have been asking me such things for almost as long as I can remember. And since I have gained visibility through my work as Stratfor's lead terrorism and security analyst and as the author of a book on travel security, the inquiries have become only more frequent…

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