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Sunday, September 25, 2016

What's going on in the World Today: 160925





Polio: The Disease Nigeria Can't Seem to Shake

By Rebecca Keller

Ridding the world of polio is going to take a little longer than originally expected. On Aug. 11, the World Health Organization confirmed at least two new cases of children who have been paralyzed by a wild-type poliovirus in Nigeria's northeastern Borno state. Prior to the revelation, Nigeria — once one of only three countries left where polio was endemic — was on the path to becoming polio-free by 2017.

When examining outbreaks and epidemics from a geopolitical perspective, we often look at how the disease in question might disrupt economic activities, such as workforce productivity or the movement of people and goods. From there, we determine whether the impact of the disease will be notable enough to influence political, economic or social decisions. But in the case of polio, perhaps the more relevant question is how those decisions have aided — or prevented — the virus's eradication….


N. Korea Missile Test Adds to 'Military First' Celebration

ASSOCIATED PRESS PYONGYANG, North Korea — Aug 25, 2016

North Korea marked its "Military First" holiday on Thursday with mass dancing, outdoor concerts and boasts of a successful — and potentially game-changing — submarine-launched ballistic missile test it hopes will serve as a warning to Washington and Seoul to stop holding joint military exercises Pyongyang sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion.

Television news broadcasts and the front pages of morning newspapers Thursday showed images of the launch, conducted in the early hours the day before. The test sent a "Pukguksong" missile soaring from a submerged position off the North's port city of Sinpo. It flew an estimated 500 kilometers (310 miles) toward the seas around Japan, the longest distance it has yet achieved in a submarine launch…

The Double-Edged Sword of Japanese Remilitarization

PIC https://www.stratfor.com/sites/default/files/styles/stratfor_large__s_/public/main/images/japan-military.jpg?itok=K66Lzpkx

With help from the U.S. Marine Corps, Japan is converting its Western Army Infantry Regiment into a unit specially trained in amphibious operations, bringing the country one step closer to remilitarization. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)


Japan may be picking up the pace on its long and steady path toward normalizing its military. The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported Aug. 14 that the Japanese intend to develop a new vehicle-mounted surface-to-ship missile with an enhanced range of 300 kilometers (185 miles) by 2023. When deployed from islands of the southern Ryukyu island chain, the missile will be within range of the Senkaku Islands. On its own, the new missile's development would not be a singularly important event; the Japanese, after all, have long fielded an array of anti-ship missiles. But Japanese media have hinted that the missile will have a built-in capacity to strike at land targets. If the suggestions are accurate, Japan may be cultivating an offensive capability that it has forgone in the past, potentially putting one of its main military allies, the United States, in a difficult position…


Gazprom Soldiers on With Nord Stream II


Editor's Note: Stratfor closely monitors the ebbs and flows of world energy. Aside from production, the transportation of crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products is of paramount concern for oil-producing nations. For energy consumers, transit routes are indispensable lifelines. A huge amount of the world's energy is transited through pipelines, across the Eurasian landmass in particular. In this periodic series we will examine some of the most geopolitically significant pipelines running through Europe and Asia.

Poland has achieved a significant victory in its battle against German and Russian energy collaboration. Daunted by Polish regulations, five international giants in the natural gas industry announced Aug. 12 that they had pulled out of an agreement to join Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom in the Nord Stream II AG consortium. The consortium, which Gazprom currently owns in its entirety, will oversee the construction and operation of the controversial Nord Stream II pipeline, set to enter service in 2019. The pullout leaves Gazprom to move forward with the 55 billion-cubic-meter natural gas pipeline project, estimated to cost between $8 billion and $11 billion, by itself, and it could have serious consequences across Northern and Central Europe. Even so, Gazprom will persevere...

Greece: European Union Increases Migrant Assistance

A Sept. 10 EU decision will provide an additional $129 million to organizations assisting migrants and refugees in Greece with schooling, food, heating and housing for minors, according to EU officials, AP reported. With winter weather approaching, approximately 60,000 migrants are trapped in Greece because of border closures. As conflict throughout the Middle East and North Africa continues unabated, the influx of migrants from the war-torn region is putting more and more strain on Europe.

France: Migrants In Calais To Be Dispersed Across Country, President Says

French President Francois Hollande said Sept. 24 that thousands of migrants living in the shantytown near the port city of Calais in northern France would be dispersed across the country, Reuters reported. About 9,000 places will be made available at "reception and orientation centers" for migrants living in the camp, Hollande said after visiting a facility in Tours. The migrants who fit the asylum criteria will be allowed to stay, while those who do not will be deported, he said. The camp in Calais, which Hollande is to visit Sept. 26, has become a symbol of the migrant crisis in France at a time when immigration is seen as a key theme in next year's presidential election. Migrants from the camp regularly clash with the police as they try to make their way to Britain via the port.






A Test of China&'s True Intentions in Space


Beijing is in the process of modernizing and enhancing its space launch capabilities. During the week of June 27, China carried out the inaugural launch of its Long March 7 system, part of a new generation of rocket systems that include the Long March 5 and Long March 6. The Long March 7, using the most powerful rocket ever built in China, will be the workhorse of the nation's future space missions, eventually carrying taikonauts and supplies into orbit for its planned space station. Though the launch was a notable achievement, the secondary payload it carried — the Aolong-1 or "Roaming Dragon," a small satellite designed to collect space debris with a robotic arm — has stirred up familiar speculation about the true nature of China's space program...

China's Coal Industry Is in Trouble

China's Sichuan Coal Group, a provincial state-owned enterprise, is just one in a sea of small to middling Chinese coal businesses on the perpetual verge of bankruptcy. The company announced July 27 that it had completed a nearly 1.06 billion-yuan ($159.5 million) bond payment that it had missed in June, a rare piece of positive news from an industry battered by sluggish demand, low coal prices and the central government's increasingly stringent attempts to cut excess capacity. But Sichuan Coal's payment, which averted a bond default, hardly augurs an upswing for the industry that has powered China for a century and that still supplies 64 percent of the country's energy mix today....

China Is Fueling a Submarine Arms Race in the Asia-Pacific

With China plowing money into its military machine and making aggressive claims to disputed island chains, Beijing’s regional rivals are investing in the one weapon that can undercut the increasingly potent People’s Liberation Army. Across South and East Asia, China’s neighbors are spending heavily on submarines, purchasing silent diesel-electric machines capable of slipping past Chinese defenses.

So when the Australian reported this week that detailed technical plans — totaling some 20,000 pages — for a French-made submarine had leaked from the manufacturer, the reaction was one of widespread panic. The leaked plans outlined in minute detail the capabilities of a Scorpene-class vessel purchased by India, and New Delhi immediately demanded that French authorities investigate how the respected DCNS shipbuilder had lost control of the plans. In Australia, where DCNS has been tapped to build the country’s next-generation submarine, officials warned the contractor needed to step up security.

The sharp reaction reveals the central place of submarines in Asia’s accelerating arms race. Submarines are one of the few weapons with which countries warily eyeing Beijing’s military buildup can send a signal that they do not plan to stand idly by as China asserts its interests through coercion and unilateral moves, particularly in the South China Sea. Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, and India can do little about the formidable radar installations and missile batteries dotting China’s coastline, as well as its expanding fleet of naval ships and warplanes, but they can build vessels capable of slipping underneath Beijing’s naval cordon.

That’s because while China has spent billions of dollars upgrading many aspects of its armed forces, from fighter jets to naval destroyers, its ability to carry out anti-submarine warfare still lags behind, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. And that has left a tactical opening for China’s rivals.

“These countries are really seeing these submarines as the capital ships of their navies,” said Clark, a former U.S. Navy submariner and advisor to the service’s top brass.


Iran: With Russian Help, Construction Begins On Second Nuclear Plant

The Iranian government in conjunction with Russian atomic energy agency Rosatom began construction Sept. 10 on the nation's second nuclear power plant, located in Bushehr, AP reported. The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, specified that the International Atomic Energy Agency would monitor the project to guarantee that it is in line with the Non-Proliferation Treat. Russia will supply the fuel for the reactor and remove the spent fuel. Iran's other nuclear power plant is also located in Bushehr and went online in 2011. The new $8.5 billion project will involve two power plants with a total capacity of 2,114 megawatts of electricity. Construction on the second will begin in 2018. Tehran hopes to transition the country's electricity grid away from hydrocarbons, replacing 20,000 megawatts of the nation's total 75,000 megawatt capacity with nuclear power by 2030. The new plant represents a key step in the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers struck in 2015 and is also a part of Russia's broader strategy to increase influence through nuclear power projects.

China: Air Force Holds Drills In Western Pacific Ocean

China's air force said Sept. 25 it had flown more than 40 bombers and other fighter planes through a strait between Japanese islands on their way to drills in the western Pacific Ocean, Reuters reported. Chinese aircraft did the exercises after flying over the Miyako Strait, a body of water between Japan's islands of Miyako and Okinawa. The drills were for the air force to protect China's sovereignty and national security, China's air force spokesman said. China's navy has often used the Miyako Strait, a key strategic route for the military, as a pathway from eastern China to the Pacific Ocean. The deployment comes as China increasingly asserts itself in territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea. China's ties with Japan have been strained by its territorial disputes in the East China Sea.




Submarines: Narco Subs Threaten Israel

August 26, 2016: Apparently the long-feared appearance of South American “narco-subs” (drug smuggling submersible vessels) in Europe is imminent. This comes from revelations that Israel is deploying new sensors and techniques to find these small, easily built vessels that they fear will be used to attack Israel’s new offshore natural gas fields. Israel is not talking about how they found out.

The United States has been dealing with these vessels for over a decade and is apparently sharing with Israel what it knows about finding these vessels. The Israelis have an advantage in that they have a less restrictive ROE (Rules of Engagement) and, while the United States never has enough surface ships or long-range helicopters to make sure that long-range sensor contacts are actually narco-subs and not some legal vessel, the Israelis can warn all maritime traffic in their coastal waters to identify themselves or risk being fired on from the air or from surface craft. A number of the latter are unmanned, like the new Seagull USV (unmanned surface vessel) that can fire wire guided torpedoes.

Most of these narco-subs are still "semi-submersible" type vessels. These are 10-20 meter (31-62 foot) fiberglass boats, powered by a diesel engine, with a very low freeboard and a small "conning tower", providing the crew (of 4-5), and engine, with fresh air and the ability to safely navigate. A boat of this type was, since they first appeared in the early 1990s, thought to be the only practical kind of submarine for drug smuggling. But since 2000 the drug gangs have developed real submarines, capable of carrying 5-10 tons of cocaine. These subs cost a lot more than semi-submersibles and also don't require a highly trained crew. These subs borrow a lot of technology and ideas from the growing number of recreational submarines being built. Only three of these true subs have been found and apparently they are not sufficiently more effective to justify their higher cost…


The Cost of Closing Russia's Budget Gap

After two years of recession, the worst may be over for Russia's economy, but not for its leaders. As the year approaches its final quarter, the Russian government is still trying to finalize its 2016 federal budget. Though the budget has long been a point of contention in the Kremlin, this year's budget battle has been especially divisive amid dwindling funds and disappearing options for spending cuts. To make matters worse, just weeks before September's parliamentary elections — a bellwether for the ruling United Russia party ahead of the 2018 presidential vote — Russians are protesting their economic straits in droves. Facing an unhappy public and a $31 billion shortfall in the current budget drafts, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev has been given a tall order: plug the gaping hole in the budget while also allowing for billions more in social spending...

The Long Arm of Russian Intelligence

By Scott Stewart

After Russian 800-meter runner Yulia Stepanova and her husband exposed the systematic state-sponsored doping regimen pervasive in Russian athletics, the couple and their young son fled to the United States, fearing for their safety. Now it seems that their fears were well founded. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced Aug. 13 that hackers had illegally accessed Stepanova's account in an agency database, which contains, among other personal information, her family's address in the United States. (Athletes are required to maintain current address information in the WADA system to facilitate unscheduled, off-competition drug testing.) WADA also noted that no other accounts had been accessed in the data breach, suggesting that Stepanova, who has since moved again with her family, was the specific target of the hack...


U.N. Claims Syrian Regime and Islamic State Used Chemical Weapons

A U.N.-authorized investigation has determined that both the Assad regime and the Islamic State used chemical weapons in Syria in recent years, the first time that the United Nations has officially assigned blame for the use of outlawed weapons in Syria’s five-and-a-half year conflict.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air force carried out at least two chemical weapons attacks against opposition-controlled towns between 2014 and 2015, while extremists from the Islamic State shelled a Syrian village with mustard gas in the summer of 2015, according to the findings of a joint investigation by the United Nations and the world’s chemical weapons watchdog. A copy of the report, which is confidential, was obtained by Foreign Policy…


The UAE Spends Big on Israeli Spyware to Listen In on a Dissident

When a government seeks to rein in a political opponent by listening in on his calls, reading his text messages, and spying on his meetings, how do they go about doing so? In the case of the United Arab Emirates and pro-democracy activist Ahmed Mansoor, they sent him a short text message.

“New secrets about torture of Emiratis in state prisons,” the Aug. 10 and 11 SMS messages to Mansoor read. The texts included a link, and had Mansoor clicked it, his phone would have turned into a powerful surveillance tool for an entity that researchers believe is the Emirati government. Pegasus, the software used against Mansoor, allows its operator to record phone calls and intercept text messages, including those made or sent on nominally encrypted apps such as Viber and WhatsApp. It can mine contact books and read emails. The software can also track its subject’s movements and even remotely turn on the phone’s camera and microphone.

The cyber-offensive against Mansoor was detailed in a new report by Citizen Lab, a research outfit based at the University of Toronto that has extensively chronicled foreign governments’ use of hacking for surveillance. The report shows the spies targeted Mansoor’s iPhone using so-called zero-day vulnerabilities, flaws that Apple had been unaware of. Citizen Lab alerted the company to the flaw earlier this month; the Cupertino, California-based tech giant issued a patch on Thursday, about 10 days after being alerted, an unusually quick response.

Mansoor may have been one of the most high-profile people targeted with Pegasus, but he won’t be the last. As technology like Pegasus comes into wider use and governments become more aware of just how powerful a surveillance tool a smartphone can be, other dissidents, human rights activists, and journalists could come under similar attack. “These dissidents or high-value targets [give] us all a taste of the future,” said Bill Marczak, one of the report’s authors and a senior research fellow at Citizen Lab…

OPEC: Saudi Arabia, Iran Cannot Agree on Output

Iran has reportedly rejected an offer from Saudi Arabia that could have led to an oil production deal at next week's informal OPEC meeting. Riyadh had reportedly proposed to dial back production to around 10.2 million barrels per day, similar to what it was producing earlier in the year before a summer hike took production to 10.6 million bpd. But the offer was contingent on Iran freezing its own production at 3.6 million bpd in return...


How to Pack for Emergency Situations

How to Pack for Emergency Situations

By Scott Stewart

We often talk about the need for people to prepare for emergency situations. In relation to personal preparedness, I'm frequently asked, "What equipment do you carry with you?" In fact, several people raised that exact question last week when I was teaching a course on travel security. As I replied, it occurred to me that Stratfor readers might also be interested in my answer. So, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to divert a little from the usual Security Weekly format to discuss it in the hope that readers will come away better prepared for emergencies.

Fire Protection

As we've discussed in the past, fire is a vastly underappreciated threat. Far more people die each year from fires — mostly from smoke inhalation — than from terrorist attacks. But as we've seen in places such as Benghazi and Mumbai, fire can be used as a weapon during an attack.

Because of this, I recommend that people carry a smoke hood whenever possible. Having a smoke hood can mean the difference between living or dying in a fire. Many people lose sight of the fact that U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and communications officer Sean Smith died from smoke inhalation during the Benghazi attack. Had their safe-house been stocked with smoke hoods as required by U.S. State Department regulations, both men would have likely survived the attack on their building. Smoke can prove deadly not only inside buildings but also in buses, aircraft, and train or subway cars. We have repeatedly seen people die from smoke inhalation after fires or bombing attacks; smoke hoods can give people trapped in such situations enough air to escape…

Bloody Lessons Learned at the Somme


A tranquil river basin in northern France will forever be associated with some of the most vicious and costly fighting of World War I. The terrain around the Somme River provided the battleground for a confrontation between elements of the German army and an Allied force spearheaded by the French and British. At the beginning of 1916, the Western Front was locked in a stalemate, blocked by the opposing battlements running from the North Sea to the Swiss border. The Allies sought to break the German defenses and to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun, wearing down the Germans in preparation for a decisive victory expected in 1917. It was hoped the July 1 Somme offensive would provide that break and set the stage for the closing acts of the war.

While the French achieved some success on the opening day of the attack, the British Fourth Army suffered staggering losses — the worst ever in a single day of combat for the United Kingdom. Claiming around 60,000 British casualties, including almost 20,000 fatalities, the Battle of the Somme left an indelible mark on the psyche of a nation, no less diminished a century after the fact. By the offensive's conclusion on Nov. 18, 1916, over a million were dead or wounded. Yet for all its appalling losses, the armies and men who fought to the end of that particular battle ushered in new attitudes and approaches to warfare...

Identifying a Mundane but Deadly Threat


Identifying choke points — areas that are difficult to avoid and therefore often used — along commutes and other frequently traveled routes can mitigate the risk of attack.
Changing up daily patterns, including departure times, modes of transportation and routes, can make it more difficult for attackers to plan an assault.
Security teams can use the same surveillance measures that assailants often use in plotting attacks to identify vulnerabilities in potential targets' normal routines.

In a world of new and evolving threats lurks a hidden danger, whose peril lies in its very consistency: routine. Pavel Sheremet, a Belarusian journalist and commentator, recently fell victim to his own daily patterns. Just before 7:40 a.m. on July 20, he got in his partner's car to drive the few kilometers from his neighborhood in central Kiev to Radio Vesti, where he hosted a morning radio show. Parking in Kiev — as in any big city — can be tricky, and Sheremet had to park at the top of Ivan Franko Street, a few hundred meters from his apartment. From there, he made a U-turn and headed to the busy intersection with Bohdan Khmelnytsky Street, which would take him to a major thoroughfare. As Sheremet turned left onto Bohdan Khmelnytsky Street, an explosion struck his vehicle. Though emergency response teams arrived at the scene within minutes, Sheremet succumbed to the injuries caused by the blast shortly after the attack...

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