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Saturday, September 15, 2018

What's going on in the World Today 180915




U.S. confirms deployment of armed drones in Niger

DAKAR (Reuters) - U.S. forces started deploying armed drones in the west African country of Niger earlier this year to attack Islamist militants, the U.S. military said on Monday.

Niger’s government granted American forces permission last November to arm their drones but neither side had previously confirmed their deployment. Before that, U.S. drones had only been used for surveillance.

The U.S. military presence in Niger has expanded in recent years to an 800-strong force that accompanies Nigerien troops on intelligence gathering and other missions, reflecting U.S. concerns about rising militancy in West Africa’s Sahel region.


India, U.S.: The Two Countries Make Progress on Military Cooperation

The Indian Express reported July 26 that the Indian government has decided to sign the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) agreement with the United States. (Stratfor)

The Big Picture

In geopolitical terms, the status of the U.S.-India relationship is of critical importance because it intersects with the great power competition emerging between the United States, China and Russia. Washington wants an improved relationship with New Delhi, primarily because it will help balance against Beijing and Moscow. Right now, India is Russia's most important arms customer, and New Delhi also fosters a significant economic relationship with Beijing.

What Happened

The Indian Express reported July 26 that the government in New Delhi has agreed to sign the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) with the United States. India reportedly asked the U.S. government to send the final text of the agreement to New Delhi so that preparations can be made to sign it during an upcoming September 6 meeting. The "2+2" meeting will occur between Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and their U.S. counterparts Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis...


Sweden to sign $1 billion Patriot missile deal this week: report

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden will sign a contract to buy the Patriot air defense missile system from U.S. arms manufacturer Raytheon Co this week, Swedish radio reported on Wednesday.

Although it is not a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member, Sweden has close ties to the alliance and has been beefing up its armed forces after decades of neglect amid increased anxiety over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea.

Sweden, whose existing air defense system cannot shoot down ballistic missiles, will buy four Patriot firing units and an undisclosed number of missiles, Swedish radio said.


Why Chile Is Chasing Tech Over Copper


-Chile will seek to diversify its economy away from a dependence on copper by becoming a technology hub in South America.

-Chile’s new visa system for technology workers and entrepreneurs will make the country more attractive to tech giants like Amazon, which are seeking to make large-scale investments.
-Large technology investments require massive upgrades to Chile’s power grid, but the country is likely to succeed in making such improvements in concert with other South American countries.

Copper is big business in Chile, which exports more of the metal than any other country in the world. The commodity's importance to Chile is unlikely to change anytime soon, but if Santiago has its way, something else will soon help propel the nation forward: technology. Chile's dependence on the mining sector, especially copper, has convinced the government to push forward with plans to transform the country into a tech hub in South America. And although two issues — education and electricity — stand in the way of Chile's tech dreams, even they are unlikely to obstruct the country's plans for long...






Iran MPs vote to remove economy minister amid financial crisis

Iran's parliament has voted to remove the economy minister from office as the country battles an economic crisis.

Masoud Karbasian was targeted by a no-confidence vote over problems in the banking system, tax regulation and his failure to fix the economy.

The move comes three weeks after Labour Minister Ali Rabiei was ousted in a similar process.

President Hassan Rouhani's government has struggled to control rising prices and the falling value of the currency.

The re-imposition of sanctions by the US after its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal has exacerbated the crisis.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the US of launching a "psychological war against Iran and its business partners", Tasnim news agency reported.




Fuel and Gas Shipments to Gaza Strip Halted

What Happened: Israel will stop shipments of fuel and gas to the Gaza Strip in response to continued attacks using airborne incendiary devices, Reuters reported Aug. 1.

Why It Matters: Israel's southern front has the potential to slide into a major war, despite attempts to avoid such an outcome.

Background: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Aug. 2 that he would cancel a planned trip to Colombia, citing the situation in the south.


Seoul Success

These young North Korean escapees are thriving in the South.

SEOUL — When waves of North Koreans began arriving in the South during a devastating famine 20 years ago, many encountered a world that might as well have been on another planet.

They had to learn to use credit cards and smartphones, to withstand the noise and the bustle and the neon lights, to hold down jobs that actually required them to show up. They had to cope with disparaging remarks or insistent queries when South Koreans heard their accents or marveled if they couldn’t use a computer.

But many of the young men and women coming out of the North today? They’re thriving.

Entrepreneurial spirit, artistic expression and a will to compete are blossoming as they move abruptly from a country dedicated to a brutally enforced totalitarian personality cult to the tumult of South Korean capitalism.

And even as they lose their northern accents and embrace southern fashions, they don’t hide their roots.

“I’m proud of the fact that I’m North Korean. It’s a big part of my identity,” said Park Su-hyang, a 27-year-old who helped found Woorion, a network that helps escapees settle in the South, one of a crop of video bloggers trying to change stereotypes.

“We often think of refugees as victims, and North Koreans, as they adjust to a very different society in South Korea, inevitably do face challenges,” said Sokeel Park, South Korea country director for Liberty in North Korea, an organization that helps escapees from the North. “But in my work with hundreds of North Koreans who have settled here, I’ve been very impressed not just with their resilience but also with their creativity and ambition and their spirit for really making the most of their lives.”

These young and determined people, activists say, will be the ones who bridge the gap between the two Koreas if the countries are reunified. They are the test lab for reunification.

Here are the stories of five young people who made the perilous escape from North Korea and have found their feet in South Korea. Their remarks have been edited for clarity...

South Korea launches its first missile-capable submarine

South Korea launched its first ever missile-capable attack submarine on Friday, despite a recent diplomatic thaw with the nuclear-armed North.

The US$700 million, 3,000-tonne Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine is capable of firing both cruise and ballistic missiles and the first of three planned diesel-electric boats to go into service in the next five years.

It represents a “leap forward” in the country’s defence industry, President Moon Jae-in told a launch ceremony at the Daewoo shipyard where it was designed and built...

“We have set off on a grand journey towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” Moon said. “But peace is not given gratuitously. Peace through power is the unwavering security strategy of this government.”

The new submarine is fitted with six vertical launch tubes and features indigenous sonar and combat management systems.

The 3,000-tonne diesel-electric submarine Dosan Ahn Chang-ho at its launching ceremony on the southern island of Geoje on September 14, 2018. Photo: AFP

Aside from the new vessels, South Korea has an existing fleet of 18 smaller submarines, all built with cooperation from Germany.

According to the defence ministry, the North has 70 ageing submarines and submersibles, and Yonhap news agency reported that it has also developed a new 2,500-tonne submarine fitted with a vertical launch system...


Skripal suspects: 'We were just tourists in Salisbury'

"Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town"
Two men named as suspects in the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in the UK have said they were merely tourists.

The men, named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, told the state-run RT channel they had travelled to Salisbury on the recommendation of friends.

The UK believes the men are Russian military intelligence officers who tried to kill Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury last March.

Downing Street dismissed the interview.

"The lies and blatant fabrications in this interview given to a Russian state-sponsored TV station are an insult to the public's intelligence," Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said.

On Wednesday Russian President Vladimir Putin said "there is nothing criminal about them" and called them "civilians".

The Skripals survived being poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok, but Dawn Sturgess - a woman not connected to the Russian events - died in July having been exposed to the same substance.

What do the two Russians say?

Appearing nervous and uncomfortable, the men confirmed their names as those announced by the UK investigators - Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. "Those are our real names," they said.

RT is Russia's state-run international broadcaster, and the pair were interviewed by its chief editor, Margarita Simonyan. "Their passports match and the photos and the information from the British side shows it's these people," she said.

The men said they worked in the sports nutrition business and had travelled to London for a short holiday, fitting in a couple of day trips to Salisbury.

The British authorities released photos of the two men they suspected of carrying out the poisoning
"Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town," Mr Petrov said...


Syria: For Israel, an Iranian Withdrawal From the Border Doesn't Go Far Enough

The Big Picture

Russian and Iranian support for Syrian government forces has been vital to their success in the country's civil war, giving both countries substantial influence in Damascus. The continuing presence of Iranian forces inside its neighbor, however, has put Israel on edge, prompting it to ask Russia to intervene. Although Russia's pull with the Syrian government is considerable, it is not enough to persuade Damascus to evict a valuable ally.

The Latest Development

Alexander Lavrentiev, the Russian special envoy to Syria, indicated Aug. 1 that the Iranian forces who had helped the Syrian government overcome pockets of rebel and Islamic State resistance near the Israeli border would be moving their heavy weapons at least 85 kilometers (52.8 miles) from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. But the announcement did little to mollify Israel, which has called the buffer zone insufficient and continues to push Russia to pressure Iran into leaving Syria altogether...

Yemen: Houthis Offer to Back Off Red Sea Attacks

What Happened

A Houthi official announced on July 31 that the group is willing to temporarily stop its attacks on Red Sea ships if the coalition led by Saudi Arabia halts its strikes on the rebels. Mohamed al-Houthi, head of the Houthis' Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said, "The unilateral halt in naval military operations will be for a limited time period and could be extended and include all fronts if this move is reciprocated by the leadership of the coalition." The Saudi Cabinet reiterated its claim Tuesday that the Houthi threat to tankers endangers world trade..

Yemen: US allies spin deals with al-Qaida in war on rebels

ATAQ, Yemen (AP) — Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West.

Here’s what the victors did not disclose: many of their conquests came without firing a shot.

That’s because the coalition cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself.

These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes...

Iran says ‘no third party’ will limit its support to Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Iran’s defense minister said Sunday his country will continue its support of the Syrian government to ensure improved security in the region, adding that the nature of the two countries’ cooperation won’t be decided by a “third party.”

Israel has expressed concern over Iran’s growing influence in Syria, accusing Iran of seeking to establish a foothold near the frontier with the Jewish state. The United States has been pressing for Iran to withdraw its fighters from Syria. In recent meetings between U.S. and Russian officials, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said he and Russian officials are discussing the issue, without providing details, calling it a U.S priority.

Iran says its presence in Syria is at the invitation of the Syrian government. “No third party can affect the presence of Iranian advisers in Syria,” Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami told reporters in Damascus.

His comments came at the start of a two-day visit to Syria, where he met with the Syrian President Bashar Assad and other senior officials. The high-level military delegation headed by Hatami is expected to boost cooperation between the two countries, and Iranian media reported that the two are expected to sign new military and defense agreements.

Iran has provided key support to Assad in the seven-year civil war, sending thousands of military advisers and allied militiamen to bolster his forces.

Hatami said he hopes Iran can play a “productive role” in Syria’s reconstruction, according to Iran’s Press TV...

GM bringing in pro hackers to find bugs in car computers

Highly computerized cars could mean consumers’ data is vulnerable or the driver’s safety might be endangered if car companies aren’t prepared to cut off any data breach or threat to cybersecurity at the pass.

General Motors is taking no chances. It’s bringing in those exact people who might do the infiltration to help thwart it.

n the upcoming weeks, GM will bring researchers, some of whom are professional computer hackers, to Detroit to offer them a bounty or cash payment for each “bug” they uncover in any of GM vehicles’ computer systems.

“We’ll show them the products, programs and systems for which we plan to establish these bug bounties. Then we’ll put them in a comfortable environment, ply them with pizza and Red Bull or whatever they might need and turn them loose,” GM President Dan Ammann said in a speech at the Billington CyberSecurity Summit at Cobo Center in Detroi....

AI and the Return of Great Power Competition

For better or worse, the advancement and diffusion of artificial intelligence technology will come to define this century. Whether that statement should fill your soul with terror or delight remains a matter of intense debate. Techno-idealists and doomsdayers will paint their respective utopian and dystopian visions of machine-kind, making the leap from what we know now as "narrow AI" to "general AI" to surpass human cognition within our lifetime. On the opposite end of the spectrum, yawning skeptics will point to Siri's slow intellect and the human instinct of Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger – the pilot of the US Airways flight that successfully landed on the Hudson River in 2009 – to wave off AI chatter as a heap of hype not worth losing sleep over...

China, U.S.: Censored Version of Google May Launch in China

What Happened: Google is planning to launch a version of its search engine in China that would censor certain websites and search terms, The Intercept reported Aug. 1.

Why It Matters: Like other U.S. tech companies, Google is willing to compromise to enter the lucrative Chinese market.

Background: China has long blocked services from U.S. tech companies such as Google's search engine and YouTube, though Google announced in December that it planned to open an artificial intelligence research center in China.


Tajikistan: Why Blame for a Terrorist Attack on Tourists Matters

The deaths of four foreign tourists in a terrorist attack could have longer-term implications for Tajikistan's economy.(Stratfor

What Happened

On July 29, four tourists on a bicycle tour of Tajikistan — two from the United States, one from the Netherlands and one from Switzerland — were killed in an attack in the Danghara district southeast of Dushanbe. Militants drove a vehicle through their cycling group, then stabbed the victims. The next day, the Islamic State claimed it had inspired the attack, but the Tajik government instead has pinned responsibility on the political opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).T...


What Explains the Ups and Downs of Resource Nationalism?


-Through resource nationalism — an attempt by a state to assert greater control over natural resources in its territory through mandates on global extractive industries — host countries seek to create value-added products and services and supply chains or capture assets.

-Over many decades, the balance of power has slowly shifted in the direction of host states as compared to global corporations.
In the short- to medium-term, however, the strength of resource nationalism is likely to ebb and flow with global market cycles and local political cycles.

-Global geopolitical shifts are another conditioning factor, and China's rise has especially stoked worries in several countries about a loss of sovereignty.
-News that the Indonesian government has taken a majority stake in U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan's giant Grasberg copper mine after a hard-fought dispute is just the latest sign of growing pressures exerted by host states on global extractive industry corporations.

The mining industry has cried foul over such actions, with the CEO of mining giant Rio Tinto warning in May that resource nationalism was "gaining momentum," threatening investment in the lucrative sector. But what exactly drives resource nationalism and what explains its ups and downs? As it turns out, the conventional explanation — market cycles — does not account for much of what leads states around the globe to strive for greater control over their natural resources...

FAA Mulls Recommendations For Planned GPS Interference

The FAA says it is studying the recommendations a special committee issued earlier this year to better notify aircraft operators of planned GPS signal interference events caused by Defense Department testing.

Loss or degradation of GPS signal reception because of interference could affect pilots’ use of GPS-based required navigation performance (RNP) procedures, disable terrain awareness and warning systems and degrade pitch and roll accuracy of GPS-aided attitude and heading reference systems, among other issues, a Tactical Operations Committee (TOC) of FAA and industry experts advised in a March report.

Loss of GPS in an aircraft equipped to report its position by automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) “Out,” a capability the FAA requires by 2020, causes that aircraft to be lost as a target for onboard ADS-B “In” systems, affects aircraft depending on satellite-based augmentation systems for precision approaches and presents a problem for the FAA’s strategy to decommission some secondary surveillance radars (SSR) as ADS-B becomes its primary means of surveillance. The FAA is considering decommissioning 80% of terminal radars as ADS-B equipage by aircraft operators increases, the TOC says...

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