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Monday, November 26, 2018

What's Going On In The World Today 181126



China Looks at U.S. Tech-Limiting Measures and Sees Gunboat Diplomacy


- As China attempts to achieve technological parity for reasons of national security, the U.S. government will continue to deploy a wide array of tools against these efforts, particularly Beijing's attempts to obtain trade secrets illegally.

- These U.S. actions, however, will merely convince Beijing to break its dependence on Western technology by any means possible, since they vividly remind China about how a technologically superior West victimized it during the days of gunboat diplomacy.

- Fearful for its own future in the wake of Washington's actions, Russia will also strive to obtain technology by any means possible.

The last Opium War ended 176 years ago, but Beijing remembers the battle well — particularly the West's penchant for gunboat diplomacy. Memories of Western coercion and blockades have already prompted China to bolster the country's navy and take aggressive steps in the South China Sea to fulfill two of its overriding strategic imperatives: prevent any encroachment on the eastern coast and secure maritime trade routes...

Building a More Efficient World

At its heart, geopolitics is a study of relative advantages. Geographic features can hinder or empower a country in pursuing its imperatives such that, as Halford Mackinder put it, there is "no such thing as equality of opportunity for the nations." Nevertheless, geography is not deterministic; advances in technology can even the playing field or turn the tides for even the most geographically disadvantaged nation. Infrastructure offers a prime example of this phenomenon. Throughout history, infrastructure has been central to a nation's cohesion and economic growth, connecting countries to themselves and to one another. In fact, despite their many bitter differences, the two major-party candidates for the U.S. presidency found a semblance of common ground in the need to update their country's aging infrastructure.

But though the need for interconnection has been a constant, it has manifested in different ways over time. As the global economy changes with the advent of new technologies, so, too, does infrastructure. Inland rivers, railways and highways have all played a role in increasing the efficiency of moving goods and people through the years, taking advantage of or augmenting existing geographic features. Even seemingly small technological advances, such as the container ship, can revolutionize long-standing modes of transportation. Now, as the fourth industrial revolution unfolds, the demands on infrastructure will shift again, and with them, the global order.

Rivers: A Traditional Advantage

For centuries, inland rivers were the lifelines of nations and empires. Cutting from the top of Minnesota to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, the Mississippi River is (literally) central to the United States and its enduring influence in the world. Along with its rich historical and cultural significance, the Mississippi River Basin offers the United States a wide swath of fertile land and navigable rivers, allowing the country an inexpensive means to transport goods within and beyond its borders. Inland waterways also underpinned the success of Northern European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, though, unlike in the United States, the rivers and the economic competition they inspired divided the Continent rather than uniting it...


Pentagon to cut troops in Africa as focus shifts to China, Russia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military will withdraw hundreds of troops focused on counterterrorism operations in Africa over the next several years to support the Pentagon’s increased focus on countering threats from China and Russia, officials said on Thursday.

Earlier this year, the U.S. military put countering China and Russia at the center of a new national defense strategy, the latest sign of shifting priorities after more than a decade and a half of focusing on the fight against Islamist militants.

“This realignment specifically projects to reduce forces by about 10 percent over the next several years - representing a fraction of the overall 7,200 DoD personnel operating in Africa,” Commander Candice Tresch, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told Reuters.

Tresch said the cuts would leave “counter-violent extremist organization” activities largely untouched in several countries, including Somalia, Djibouti and Libya...


India Looks for a Strategic Edge in Its Indian Ocean Contest With China


- China's increased presence in the Indian Ocean is driving India into a race for dominance in the region.

- India's broad security commitments prevent it from meeting its naval ambitions, forcing it to rely on other strategic measures to challenge China's penetration into the region.

- By taking advantage of geographic choke points, building up its influence with states inside and outside the region, and seeking closer cooperation with the United States, India is positioning itself to better challenge

Editor's Note: This assessment is part of a series of analyses supporting Stratfor's upcoming 2019 Annual Forecast. These assessments are designed to provide more context and in-depth analysis on key developments in the coming year.

Throughout most of India's history, its rulers have emphasized land forces over sea power. Their domains were faced with the persistent threat of invasion from the northwest as well as the specter of internal strife. But the European colonial invasions by sea provided a rude awakening, and in the immediate aftermath of independence, New Delhi focused on the need for a powerful navy. However, conflict with Pakistan, internal dissent and border clashes with China reinforced the need for powerful ground forces. And China isn't just testing India on the land; it is also pushing into the Indian Ocean. To meet this challenge, India is strengthening its navy while maximizing its strategic thinking...


UK to double F-35 fleet with 17-jet order, Defence Secretary announces

The multi-million-pound contract signed will see the UK own 35 stealth jets by end of 2022 with Britain manufacturing 15% of the overall global order for 255 aircraft.

The UK is set to double its number of world-beating F-35 stealth jets after ordering 17 more aircraft, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced.

The 17 new F-35B aircraft will be delivered between 2020 and 2022 and will complement the 16 British aircraft currently based at RAF Marham and in the US, as well as two additional aircraft which are already on order.

Overall, the UK has committed to procure 138 aircraft over the life of the programme...

...The 17 jets being ordered are part of a $6 billion contract for 255 aircraft being built for the global F-35 enterprise...

...As the largest operator of F-35s outside of the US, the acquisition of 17 more Lightning aircraft underscores our commitment to the programme. This new contract demonstrates how our Armed Forces are equipped by DE&S with the latest equipment and support.

News of this latest order comes as F-35B aircraft are currently embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth for flying trials in the US, which continue to progress well. The fighter jets will be jointly manned by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and can operate from land and sea, forming a vital part of Carrier Strike when operating from the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.


Latin America's Auto Giants Strive to Secure Markets


- Mexico's auto sector will remain oriented toward the United States, particularly in the wake of the signing of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

- Brazil will continue its quest to find new export markets, as Mexico did three decades ago.

- Brazil's incoming administration will try to persuade members of the Mercosur trading bloc to allow each member state to sign its own bilateral free trade agreements.

If Brazil succeeds in lifting Mercosur's trade restrictions, the country's auto sector will target developing markets in Asia, Latin America and Africa, where Brazilian-made vehicles would be most competitive.
When it comes to Latin American automotive production, two giants dominate the scene: Mexico and Brazil. Together, they produced 6.8 million light and commercial vehicles last year, representing around 7 percent of the globe's total output. The two are also heavily integrated into global automotive supply chains, as Mexico's auto sector is closely linked to the United States, while Brazil's auto sector has tight connections to Argentina. Historically, however, the Mexican and Brazilian automotive industries developed in vastly different geopolitical environments. Mexico is an export-oriented powerhouse, shipping nearly 70 percent of its finished vehicle production to the United States. Brazil, on the other hand, mainly focuses on supplying its huge domestic market. And thanks to the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the future of Mexico's automotive market clearly lies in the same place as its recent past: the U.S. domestic market. Brazil, by contrast, will take steps to eliminate the domestic and regional obstacles that are complicating its efforts to expand its exports of cars and parts...

Trump administration prepares to add Venezuela to list of state sponsors of terrorism

The Trump administration is preparing to add Venezuela to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in what would be a dramatic escalation against the socialist government of Nicolás Maduro, according to U.S. officials and internal government emails.

The list is reserved for governments accused of repeatedly providing “support for acts of international terrorism” and includes only Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

Republican lawmakers led by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) have pushed for the designation, citing Venezuela’s alleged ties to Lebanese Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and other groups.

Republicans have long accused Venezuela of having ties to terrorist organizations. But experts have played down the threat and strength of those connections. They warn that a designation that does not offer concrete evidence could weaken the legitimacy of the U.S. list, which critics say already is applied inconsistently...

“I suspect this will be based on hearsay and sources of questionable integrity,” said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.


Afghanistan’s Rivers Could Be India’s Next Weapon Against Pakistan

New Delhi is funding an ambitious dam near Kabul that could reduce water flow to its rival downstream. The project might spark the world’s next conflict.

Most of Afghanistan is currently experiencing a 60 percent drop in the rain and snowfall needed for food production. The rapid expansion of Kabul’s population, extreme drought conditions across the country, and the specter of climate change have exacerbated the need for new water infrastructure. But building it is politically complicated; the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region is defined by its complex maze of transboundary rivers and there is no legal framework in place to avoid major conflict between the nations.

It’s no surprise, then, that in the Chahar Asiab district of Kabul, on a tributary of the Kabul River, the Maidan, work is scheduled to begin soon on the Shahtoot Dam. The dam will hold 146 million cubic meters of potable water for 2 million Kabul residents and irrigate 4,000 hectares of land. It will also provide drinking water for a new city on the outskirts of Kabul called Deh Sabz. Afghanistan is finally, after decades of devastating wars, in a position to begin to develop its economy and electricity from hydropower.

But this ambitious development is fueling fears downstream in Pakistan that the new dam will alter the flow of the Kabul River and reduce the water flows into Pakistan that could severely limit the country’s future access to water. The Pakistani media outlet Dawn has reported that there could be a 16 to 17 percent drop in water flow after the completion of the Shahtoot Dam and other planned dams.

Beyond reducing water flow to Pakistan, the Shahtoot Dam has a unique capacity to escalate tensions in the region thanks to its funding from India.Beyond reducing water flow to Pakistan, the Shahtoot Dam has a unique capacity to escalate tensions in the region thanks to its funding from India. India has made major investments in Afghanistan’s infrastructure in recent years—from highway construction to repair of government buildings and dams damaged by conflict...


China using ‘gait recognition’ to ID people

BEIJING — Chinese authorities have begun deploying a new surveillance tool: “gait recognition” software that uses people’s body shapes and how they walk to identify them, even when their faces are hidden from cameras.

Already used by police on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai, “gait recognition” is part of apush across China to develop artificial-intelligence and data-driven surveillance that is raising concern about how far the technology will go.

Huang Yongzhen, the CEO of Watrix, said that its system can identify people from up to 165 feet away, even with their back turned or face covered. This can fill a gap in facial recognition, which needs close-up, high-resolution images of a person’s face to work.

“You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity,” Huang said in an interview in his Beijing office. “Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body.”

Watrix announced last month that it had raised $14.5 million to accelerate the development and sale of its gait recognition technology, according to Chinese media reports.

In South China Sea, a display of U.S. Navy strength — and a message to Beijing

ABOARD THE USS RONALD REAGAN — As fighter jets roared off the flight deck and darted above the South China Sea, visitors onboard the carrier USS Ronald Reagan raised their phones for the inevitable selfies.

Among those clicking souvenir images was a lieutenant general from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who was part of a VIP guest list as the carrier moved through contested waters.

The carrier — which docked last week in Hong Kong in a good-faith gesture from Beijing — also offered a snapshot into challenges for the Pentagon in the Asia-Pacific region as China builds up its own naval prowess and ramps up efforts to solidify territorial demands.

The United States seeks to keep its place as the dominant naval power across East Asia, where Washington and its allies believe Beijing is trying to reorder international rules and military alliances in place since World War II...


Why Iran's Government Will Bear the Weight of U.S. Sanctions


- Iran's economy will enter a sharp recession in 2019, but Tehran can capably manage any political fallout that may follow.

- Economically, Iran will emphasize prudent management and protection of precious hard currency reserves while boosting domestic investment through its public sector and trying to continue financial sector reform.

- While it focuses on economic survival in the face of sanctions, however, Iran will make only limited progress on much-needed longer-term reforms, such as strengthening the private sector.

Iran's squabbling political factions will try to take advantage of the economic environment, but in the face of the crisis, they will work together to prioritize regime preservation.
Editor's Note: This assessment is part of a series of analyses supporting Stratfor's upcoming 2019 Annual Forecast. These assessments are designed to provide more context and in-depth analysis on key developments in the coming year.

A year ago on Iran's black market, one U.S. dollar would bring 41,000 Iranian rials. Today, it would take more than three times as many rials, about 125,000, to buy a dollar. One year ago, Iran was free to export as much oil as it was capable of producing. Today, the United States has reapplied sanctions related to both Iran's oil exports, which provide about a third of government revenue, and its financial dealings. And while the White House has granted sanctions waivers to a few of Iran's oil customers, the waivers are only temporary, ensuring that Iranian oil exports will fall further in 2019.

To put it bluntly, 2019 will be disastrous for Iran's economy, perhaps even precipitating significant economic and social unrest, much like the start of 2018. But while the Iranian economy will bend under the weight of sanctions, they will not break the Islamic republic. Iran's leadership has a long history of dealing with sanctions and economic isolation, and 40 years of practice has made the government particularly adept at survival...


Iraq: Oil Prices Plunge as Kirkuk's Production Comes Back on Line

The Big Picture

Iraq's federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have squabbled over oil revenue and resources for years, and they are still not cooperating. As Iraq's oil production continues to increase, the OPEC member is adding more oil to a market that has already overcompensated for sanctions on Iran. Going forward, Iraq's increased production will give Saudi Arabia more reason to push for another global cut in production.

Rising supply has caused oil prices to plunge in the past seven weeks. And thanks to Iraq, that growth in supply will not let up. On Nov. 16, a temporary deal between Iraq's federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) enabled the export of oil from the disputed province of Kirkuk through the Kurdistan-Turkey pipeline for the first time since June 2017. For now, the amount of oil is about 50,000 barrels per day (bpd), but the deal aims to boost it to 100,000 bpd. However, if Kirkuk's export levels return to normal, then 200,000 to 400,000 barrels of Iraqi oil could make its way to export markets each day...




S. Korea sends tangerines to North in return for mushrooms

In this Nov. 11, 2018 photo, South Korean soldiers prepare to load boxes of tangerines near South Korea's Air Force cargo plane C-130 at the Jeju International Airport on Jeju Island, South Korea. South Korea has airlifted thousands of boxes of tangerines to North Korea in return for the North's large shipments of pine mushrooms in September.(Park Ji-ho/Yonhap via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has airlifted 200 tons of tangerines to North Korea in return for shipments of pine mushrooms by the North in September, officials said Monday.

South Korean military planes flew to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, on Sunday and Monday to deliver the fruit from the southern island of Jeju, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry. The airlifts are another sign that liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in is moving ahead with efforts to improve ties with North Korea despite stalemated global diplomacy on the North’s nuclear program.

After a summit meeting between the Koreas in Pyongyang in September, North Korea gave South Korea 2 tons of pine mushrooms as a goodwill gesture. Pine mushrooms are white and brown fungi that are considered a healthy delicacy in both Koreas and other Asian countries. They are one of the North’s most prized regional products, and the country shipped them to South Korea in 2000 and 2007 after previous summit talks...

North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center: 5 MWe Reactor Unlikely Operating

Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center indicates that although a minor flow of water could be detected from the pre-existing cooling water outfall pipe of the 5 MWe reactor, such a low flow is more likely indicative of residual waste heat removal from past reactor operations than any new reactor operations.

Dredging continues near the reactor’s secondary cooling system, and by November, that dredged material had blocked nearly all of the river channel serving the pump house. Minimal movements of vehicles and equipment have taken place around both the 5 MWe reactor and the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR). Notably, between September 27 and November 2, new excavation had started along the road east of the 5 MWe reactor, the purpose of which is unclear.


Finland, Norway press Russia on suspected GPS jamming during NATO drill

HELSINKI – Nordic governments are primed to raise suspected GPS jamming of military exercises and communications with Russia.

Finland and Norway intend to launch diplomatic discussions with Moscow over suspected GPS signal-jamming by Russia’s military over recent weeks that impacted areas in northern Norway where NATO-led Trident Juncture maneuvers were being conducted.

Norway’s defense intelligence agency said it tracked the source of the signal-jamming to a Russian military base on the nearby, heavily fortified Kola Peninsula. Finland’s military intelligence said Norway’s analysis mirrors its own investigations and evaluations.

Scrambled GPS signals were first detected during NATO’s large-scale Trident Juncture exercises in Norway at the end of October. Defense and civil aviation chiefs in Finland and Norway warned that the GPS jamming posed a serious risk to both military and commercial aircraft using the affected airspace in the High North.

Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has presented the national parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (CFA) a preliminary report on the jamming. The MFA is expected to furnish the panel with a more conclusive report by the end of November.

The GPS signal-jamming issue is being discussed with the Russian Federation “through diplomatic channels”, said Sari Rautio, director of the MFA’s unit for security policy and crisis management...


In Iraq and Syria, Imagery of Nighttime Electricity Use Illuminates the Impacts of War

The outbreak of conflict in Syria in 2011, which quickly escalated to a full-blown civil war, has done tremendous damage to the country. One compelling way to visualize the devastation is using satellite night-light imagery.

Imagery that depicts electricity use at night is an illuminating tool that can be used to track population trends, economic developments and geopolitical shifts. One of the most widely known examples of this approach is the set of images that highlight the stark difference in nighttime electricity use between South Korea and the less-developed North Korea.

The image below represents electricity use in the Levant area of the Middle East by depicting the evolving intensity of night lights between 2012 and 2016. As millions of refugees fled Syria and warfare destroyed the country's electricity network, the night-light intensity in Syria dropped precipitously between 2012 and 2016...

Trump Ramped Up Drone Strikes in America’s Shadow Wars

In his first two years in office, Donald Trump launched 238 drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia—way beyond what the ‘Drone President’ Barack Obama did.

The U.S. president inherited a remotely piloted weapon of death from his predecessor. In his earliest period in office, he used this lethal robot force promiscuously, sharply escalating attacks on suspected terrorists away from his declared wars. As time went on, his use of drone strikes in those places diminished.

Barack Obama? Well, yes. But a look at available statistics for drone strikes on America’s undeclared battlefield shows that this description also applies to Donald Trump.

In 2009 and 2010, Obama launched 186 drone strikes on Yemen, Somalia, and especially Pakistan. Donald Trump’s drone strikes during his own first two years on the three pivotal undeclared battlefields, however, eclipse Obama’s—but without a corresponding reputation for robot-delivered bloodshed, or even anyone taking much notice. In 2017 and 2018 to date, Trump has launched 238 drone strikes there, according to data provided to The Daily Beast by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and the drone-watchers at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London...

The Threat Posed By Houthi Rebel UAVs

For several months, Houthi rebels in Yemen have made grandiose announcements that their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are targeting and striking airports, oil refineries and military bases. The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis dispute this, and there is little concrete evidence of the alleged attacks. But even though the threat has yet to be realized, it should not be dismissed.

The Houthis lack an effective manned air force and face an opposition with both formidable airpower and advanced air defenses in the form of Patriot missile batteries. To counter this, they rely on ballistic missiles and UAVs for offensive airpower.

In 2017, Houthi forces unveiled four types of small, supposedly home-produced UAVs, all of which appear to have been supplied by Iran. Among them are the Qasef-1 (Striker-1), a locally assembled version of the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Co.’s (HESA) Ababil, with GPS guidance. It carries a 15-kg (33-lb.) kamikaze warhead that is said to have a range of 150 km (93 mi.). A study of a captured Qasef by Conflict Armament Research indicates that a key mission was to target the Patriot systems’ radar.

A key mission of the Houthi’s Qasef UAV is to target Patriot systems’ radar

Evidence does not support Houthi assertions that it struck UAE airports

This year, Houthis have continued to strike at the coalition. Last February, the rebels claimed to have attacked a Saudi Patriot Advanced Capability battery with a swarm of drones before destroying it with a ballistic missile. They followed this up two weeks later by stating they had destroyed a United Arab Emirates (UAE) Patriot battery near Marib. In both cases, the coalition forces denied any casualties but did report shooting down ballistic missiles...

Syria war: Aleppo 'gas attack' sparks Russia strikes

Russia has carried out air strikes against Syrian rebels it accuses of launching a chemical attack on the government-held city of Aleppo.

Both Syria and its Russian allies say shells carrying toxic gas injured about 100 people late on Saturday.

State media showed images of Aleppo residents being treated in hospital as they struggled to breathe.

The rebels deny carrying out a chemical strike and say the claims are a pretext for an attack on opposition-held areas.

Parts of the Aleppo region, as well as the neighbouring provinces of Hama and Idlib, are controlled by Turkish-backed rebels and jihadists...


Visualizing the Geopolitics of Cyberspace

Access to the internet varies around the globe. Beyond the physical infrastructure required to connect, regional access depends largely on a country's policies and values. Equally, internet freedoms typically align with a country's level of political freedom...






Why American Oil Hasn’tBeen a Total Game-Changer

The U.S. is now the world’s top producer, but Saudi Arabia still holds the key to crude prices.

The United States in recent years has stunned the globe by becoming the world’s biggest oil producer, a remarkable about-face for a country that a decade ago reeled from reliance on pricey imported crude. So why does it seem so hard to translate that so-called energy dominance from rhetoric into reality? President Donald Trump’s tweet-borne rage with the oil-price rollercoaster in recent months, and OPEC’s subsequent efforts to fix the market by adjusting the amount of oil it pumps, illustrates the frustration many in Washington feel when they see what looks like a huge U.S. energy boom failing to deliver on promises of dominance or independence.

But the reality is that the notion of energy dominance, as repeatedly trumpeted by the administration, is at heart a hollow idea. Even America’s position as the top producer in the world isn’t enough to shield it from rising prices, free it from Middle East entanglements, strangle foes with sanctions, or even give it many additional foreignpolicy tools. The ultimate irony is that what created the U.S. energy revolution—nimble, private sector companies using new technologies to extract previously untapped crude—keeps the United States from wielding its energy strength in the way that Saudi Arabia, Russia, and other big producers with state-owned firms willing to put geopolitics above profits do.

“Ironically, the precise strength of the U.S. energy sector—that it is driven by the market and not by a government—also means that it is not a stick to beat people with,” said Bruce Jones, the director of the foreign-policy program at the Brookings Institution...

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