Tag Archives: geopolitics


Over the last three months, I have been republishing a number of articles from Stratfor, a US company that describes itself as ‘a global intelligence company that specializes in Web publishing and  client solutions.’ These articles have not had many hits, and I have decided that I would rather concentrate on posting things that I have written myself.

Anybody who wants to continue reading Stratfor’s reports can subscribe from this link. Enter your email in the box in the right hand column labelled ‘Sign Up for Free’ to receive the two weekly emails that I have been republishing, One is on Geopolitics and the other is about Security. You can also read them on their website, from the link labelled FREE.

Subscribers to the free reports receive regular emails inviting them to subscribe to their paid services, generally at a significant discount to the list price. I do not subscribe to these, so cannot comment on their quality.


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Intelligence and Human Networks – Stratfor

Another article re-produced from Stratfor.

Intelligence  and Human Networks is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  Intelligence and Human Networks | Stratfor

By Tristan Reed of Stratfor

Stratfor views the world through the lens of geopolitics,  the study of hard, physical constraints on man’s ability to shape reality.  Political decisions are limited by the geography in which they take place,  eliminating many of the options concocted by ideologues and making their human  decisions easier to predict. But the study of geopolitics only takes the  understanding of global affairs so far: It identifies the geographical  constraints but leaves an array of options open to human actors. So when  forecasting on a shorter time frame, analysis must go beyond geographical  constraints to more specific, temporal constraints. For this reason, predicting  the short-term activities of human actors requires an understanding of the  constraints they face in the human terrain within which they operate.

As a result, one task common to any intelligence organization is defining the  human network of a state, criminal organization, militant movement or any other  organization to better determine and understand a group’s characteristics and  abilities. A human network in this sense is a broad term used to describe the  intricate web of relations existing in an organization and within a specific  region. For anyone or any organization with interests in a given geographic  area, understanding the networks of individuals with influence in the region is  critical.

Intelligence and Analysis

People use human networks to organize the control of resources and geography.  No person alone can control anything of significance. Presidents, drug lords and  CEOs rely on people to execute their strategies and are constrained by the  capabilities and interests of the people who work for them. Identifying these  networks may be a daunting task depending on the network. For obvious reasons,  criminal organizations and militant networks strive to keep their membership  secret, and it is not always apparent who gives the orders and who carries out  the orders in a political body. To discern who’s who in a group, and therefore  whether an individual matters in a group, requires both intelligence and  analysis to make sense of the intelligence.

How intelligence is acquired depends on the resources and methods available  to an intelligence organization, while the analysis that follows differs  depending on the intent. For example, International Security Assistance Force  military operations aimed at disrupting militant networks in Afghanistan would  require the collection of informants and signals intelligence followed by  analysis to pinpoint the exact location of individuals within a network to  enable targeted operations. Simply knowing who belongs to a militant network and  their location is not enough; the value lies in the significance and  capabilities of an individual in the group. Detaining an individual who lays  improvised explosive devices on a road may result in short-term disruptions to  the target’s area of operations, but identifying and detaining a bombmaker with  exclusive experience and training will have a far greater impact.

The true value of analysis lies in understanding the significance of a  particular individual in a network. Mapping out a human network begins with the  simple question of who belongs to a particular network. Next, identify and  define relationships with other known individuals and organizations. For some,  this process takes the form of link analysis, which is a visual representation  of a network where each individual is represented in a diagram. Links between  the individuals who interact with one another are then depicted. These links  show an individual’s significance in a group and establish whether he is a lowly  scout within a transnational criminal organization who may only interact with  his paymaster. The paymaster, by contrast, could be linked to dozens of other  group members. Examining how many links within a group an individual has,  however, is just scratching the surface of understanding the network.

Every individual within a given human network has reasons to be tied to  others within the network. Understanding what unites the individuals in an  organization provides further depth of understanding. Whether it be ideology,  mutual interests, familial ties or paid services, why a relationship exists will  help determine the strength of such bonds, the motives of the network and the  limitations to what a network can accomplish. For example, when assessing the  strength of the Syrian regime, it is imperative to identify and examine the inner circle of President Bashar  al Assad. Analyzing these members can indicate which factions of the  Syrian population and which political and familial groupings support or reject  the al Assad regime. That key posts within the government are now occupied  primarily by Alawites indicates a combination of regime distrust of the Sunnis  and dwindling levels of support from even high-ranking Sunnis. Similarly,  examining the once-strong ties of inner circle members who have defected  indicates which factions no longer support the regime and points toward other  groups that might also have doubts about remaining loyal.

Rarely is there a completely isolated human network. Human relations  typically span multiple regions or even continents. Politicians can have their  own business interests, drug traffickers may have counterparts in another  country and militant groups may have the sympathy of other groups or even  members in a state’s government. There are no limits on how separate networks  may interact with one another. Understanding a group’s ties to other groups  further defines the original group’s influence. For example, a political leader  at odds with the powerful military of his state may find significant constraints  in governing (due to the limitations within the human network on figures linking  the military assets to political leaders). A drug trafficker with a law  enforcement officer on his payroll will likely find less resistance from  authorities when conducting illicit business (due to the capabilities that a  police officer would provide to the network).

The reasons for, and methods of, defining a human network will vary depending  on the intelligence organization. A nation with vast resources like the United  States has an exceptionally large focus on human networks around the world and a  full array of intelligence disciplines to gather the necessary information. At  Stratfor, our reasons to map the intricate web of human relations within an  organization differ as we look to understand the constraints that human networks  place on actors.

Challenges of Tracking Human Networks

The individuals in an organization are constantly changing. This means the  job of mapping the driving forces in an organization never ends, since relations  shift, roles change and individuals often are taken out of the picture  altogether. As a result, intelligence collectors must continually task their  intelligence assets for new information, and analysts must continually update  their organizational charts.

Logically, the more fluid the membership of an organization, the more  difficult it is for an intelligence organization — or rival organization — to  follow it. As an example, take Los Zetas, who dominate the Mexican border town  of Nuevo Laredo. The group always will have individuals in the city in charge of  running daily criminal operations, such as coordinating gunmen, drug shipments,  money laundering and retail drug sales. Within a Mexican transnational criminal  organization, the person filling this role is typically called a “plaza boss.”  Several alleged Zetas plaza bosses of Nuevo Laredo were killed or captured  during 2012 in Mexican military operations. With each kill or capture, an  organization must replace the former plaza boss. This frequent succession of  plaza bosses obviously reshapes the human network operating in Nuevo Laredo.

It is no simple matter for a collector to ask his informants about, or to  eavesdrop through surveillance, for information about the personnel changes. It  takes time for a new plaza boss to assume his new responsibilities. A new office  manager must get to know his employees and operations before making critical  decisions. Additionally, an intelligence collector’s assets may not be able to  provide updates right away. In the case of an informant, does the informant have  the same access to the new plaza boss as the former? Roles are more constant  within an organization and can be split up among individuals. Thus, a person who  had handled both gunmen and drug shipments may be replaced by two people to  break up the responsibilities. Therefore, collectors and analysts must seek to  understand the roles of the new plaza boss and whether he has the same influence  as the prior one.

What We Do

Understanding that the players within organizations change frequently, but  that the roles and constraints of an organization transform far more slowly, is  key to how Stratfor approaches human networks. For the leader of a nation, the  geopolitical imperatives of the nation serve as impersonal forces directing the  decisions of a rational individual. For a criminal or insurgent leader, there is  only so much that can be done while attempting to avoid notice by law  enforcement and the military, and the organization’s imperatives will likely  remain in place. In determining the constraints and imperatives, we can better  identify the significance and courses of actions of an organization without  necessarily knowing the details about the individuals serving specific  roles.

Particularly with more clandestine human networks, we continually examine the  external effects of known personnel changes. For example, how has the death of a  Taliban leader in Pakistan affected the operations of the Tehrik-i-Taliban  Pakistan as a whole, such as in the case of the Jan. 3 death  of Taliban leader Maulvi Nazir in South Waziristan? Nazir commanded a  relatively benign faction of the Pakistani Taliban that kept more aggressive,  anti-government factions out of South Waziristan. His removal, and the nature of  his removal, could invite militants waging an active fight against the Pakistani  government to return to South Waziristan. Ultimately, Nazir was a distinct  figure in the Pakistani militant network due to his alliance with Islamabad.  While his removal won’t change the fact that militants will thrive on the  Pakistani-Afghan border (which geography dictates), it does marginally tilt the  balance away from Islamabad and toward the militants.

With the example of Los  Zetas in Nuevo Laredo, we know Nuevo Laredo is a critical location for the  transnational criminal organization. As a border town with one of the  highest volumes of cross-border commercial shipping to the United States, the  city serves as one of the principal sources of revenue for Zetas drug  traffickers. For this reason, Los Zetas will certainly continue to replace  figures who are removed by military and law enforcement.

Using this known behavior and the imperatives, we can learn about Los Zetas  elsewhere in Mexico: By observing the group at a broader geographic level, we  can deduce the significance of a capture or death in a specific locale. If the  losses of personnel in Nuevo Laredo have had a significant impact on the  organization, operations would likely suffer in other geographic areas as the  group accommodates its losses in Nuevo Laredo.

In forecasting the political, economic or security climate of a geographic  region, understanding human networks must be incorporated into any analysis.  Areas such as Mexico and Syria have geographic elements that define conflicts.  Mexico’s location between the cocaine producers of the northern Andes and  cocaine consumers in the United States ensures that groups will profit off the cocaine flow from south  to north. The Sierra Madre Occidental and Sierra Madre Oriental divide  trafficking corridors between the east and west coasts of Mexico. But geography  alone can’t be used to predict how groups will organize and compete with each  other within those trafficking corridors. Predicting the spread and scope of  violence depends on knowledge of the human network and of who controls the  resources and terrain. Similarly, the geographic significance of the Levant to  Iran and Iraq determines the importance of Syria as an access point to the  Mediterranean, but that alone doesn’t determine the future of al Assad’s regime.  Understanding who his most trusted confidants are, what their relationships are  based on and watching their moves enables us to filter the constant news of  death and destruction coming out of Syria and to focus on the individuals who  directly support al Assad and determine his immediate fate.

Inasmuch as humans can overcome geography, they can do so through  organizations that control terrain and resources. Understanding the nature of  those organizations and how they control those assets requires knowledge of the  human network.

Read more:  Intelligence and Human Networks | Stratfor

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The Geopolitics of Shale from Stratfor

The Geopolitics of  Shale is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

By Robert D. Kaplan Chief  Geopolitical Analyst

According to the elite newspapers and journals of opinion, the future of  foreign affairs mainly rests on ideas: the moral impetus for humanitarian  intervention, the various theories governing exchange rates and debt rebalancing  necessary to fix Europe, the rise of cosmopolitanism alongside the stubborn  vibrancy of nationalism in  East Asia and so on. In other words, the world of the future can be  engineered and defined based on doctoral theses. And to a certain extent this  may be true. As the 20th century showed us, ideologies — whether communism,  fascism or humanism — matter and matter greatly.

But there is another truth: The reality of large, impersonal forces like  geography and the environment that also help to determine the future of human  events. Africa has historically been poor largely because of few  good natural harbors and few navigable rivers from the interior to the  coast. Russia is paranoid because its  land mass is exposed to invasion with few natural barriers. The Persian Gulf  sheikhdoms are fabulously wealthy not because of ideas but because of large  energy deposits underground. You get the point. Intellectuals concentrate on  what they can change, but we are helpless to change much of what happens.

Enter shale, a sedimentary rock within which natural gas can be trapped.  Shale gas constitutes a new source of extractable energy for the post-industrial  world. Countries that have considerable shale deposits will be better placed in  the 21st century competition between states, and those without such deposits  will be worse off. Ideas will matter little in this regard.

Stratfor, as it happens, has studied the issue in depth. Herein is my own  analysis, influenced in part by Stratfor’s research.

So let’s look at who has shale and how that may change geopolitics. For the  future will be heavily influenced by what lies underground.

The United States, it turns out, has vast deposits of shale gas: in Texas,  Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and elsewhere. America,  regardless of many of the political choices it makes, is poised to be an energy  giant of the 21st century. In particular, the Gulf Coast, centered on Texas and  Louisiana, has embarked upon a shale gas and tight oil boom. That development  will make the Caribbean an economic focal point of the Western Hemisphere,  encouraged further by the 2014 widening of the Panama Canal. At the same time,  cooperation between Texas and adjacent Mexico will intensify, as Mexico  increasingly becomes a market for shale gas, with its own exploited shale basins  near its northern border.

This is, in part, troubling news for Russia. Russia  is currently the energy giant of Europe, exporting natural gas westward in  great quantities, providing Moscow with political leverage all over Central and  particularly Eastern Europe. However, Russia’s reserves are often in parts of  Siberia that are hard and expensive to exploit — though Russia’s extraction  technology, once old, has been considerably modernized. And Russia for the  moment may face relatively little competition in Europe. But what if in the  future the United States were able to export shale gas to Europe at a  competitive price?

The United States still has few capabilities to export shale gas to Europe.  It would have to build new liquefaction facilities to do that; in other words,  it would have to erect plants on the Gulf of Mexico that convert the gas into  liquid so that it could be transported by ship across the Atlantic, where  regasification facilities there would reconvert it back into gas. This is doable  with capital investment, expertise and favorable legislation. Countries that  build such facilities will have more energy options, to export or import,  whatever the case may be. So imagine a future in which the United States exports  liquefied shale gas to Europe, reducing the dependence that European countries  have on Russian energy. The geopolitics of Europe could shift somewhat. Natural  gas might become less of a political tool for Russia and more of a purely  economic one (though even such a not-so-subtle shift would require significant  exports of shale gas from North America to Europe).

Less dependence on Russia would allow the vision of a truly independent,  culturally vibrant Central and Eastern Europe to fully prosper — an ideal of  the region’s intellectuals for centuries, even as ideas in this case would have  little to do with it.

This might especially be relevant to Poland. For Poland may have significant  deposits of shale gas. Were Polish shale deposits to prove the largest in Europe  (a very big “if”), Poland  could become more of an energy producer in its own right, turning this flat  country with no natural defenses to the east and west — annihilated by both  Germany and the Soviet Union in the 20th century — into a pivot state or  midlevel power in the 21st. The United States, in turn, somewhat liberated from  Middle East oil because of its own energy sources (including natural gas finds),  could focus on building up Poland as a friendly power, even as it loses  substantial interest in Saudi Arabia. To be sure, the immense deposits of oil  and natural gas in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran will keep the Middle  East a major energy exporter for decades. But the shale gas revolution will  complicate the world’s hydrocarbon supply and allocation, so that the Middle  East may lose some of its primacy.

It turns out that Australia also has  large new natural gas deposits that, with liquefaction facilities, could  turn it into a principal energy exporter to East Asia, assuming Australia  significantly lowers its cost of production (which may prove very hard to do).  Because Australia is already starting to emerge as the most dependable military  ally of the United States in the Anglosphere, the alliance of these two  great energy producers of the future could further cement Western influence in  Asia. The United States and Australia would divide up the world: after a  fashion, of course. Indeed, if unconventional natural gas exploitation has  anything to do with it, the so-called post-American world would be anything  but.

The geopolitical emergence of Canada — again, the result of natural gas and  oil — could amplify this trend. Canada has immense natural gas deposits in  Alberta, which could possibly be transported by future pipelines to British  Columbia, where, with liquefaction facilities, it could then be exported to East  Asia. Meanwhile, eastern Canada could be the beneficiary of new shale gas  deposits that reach across the border into the northeastern United States. Thus,  new energy discoveries would bind the two North American countries closer, even  as North America and Australia become more powerful on the world scene.

China also has  significant deposits of shale gas in its interior provinces. Because Beijing  is burdened by relatively few regulations, the regime could acquire the land and  build the infrastructure necessary for its exploitation. This would ease  somewhat China’s energy crunch and aid Beijing’s strategy to compensate for the  decline of its coastal-oriented economic model by spurring development  inland.

The countries that might conceivably suffer on account of a shale gas  revolution would be landlocked, politically unstable oil producers such as Chad,  Sudan and South Sudan, whose hydrocarbons could become relatively less valuable  as these other energy sources come online. China, especially, might in the  future lose interest in the energy deposits in such low-end, high-risk countries  if shale gas became plentiful in its own interior.

In general, the coming of shale gas will magnify the importance of geography.  Which countries have shale underground and which don’t will help determine power  relationships. And because shale gas can be transported across oceans in liquid  form, states with coastlines will have the advantage. The world will be smaller because of unconventional gas  extraction technology, but that only increases the preciousness of  geography, rather than decreases it.

Editor’s Note: Stratfor offers a combination of  geopolitical insight, source-driven intelligence and objective analysis to  produce customized reliable information and forecasting for businesses,  organizations and government agencies. For more information about Stratfor’s  client solutions offerings, click here: http://info.stratfor.com/solutions/

Read more:  The Geopolitics of Shale | Stratfor

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