Tag Archives: Stratfor

Stratfor

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Current affairs

Soft Targets Back in Focus – Stratfor

Soft Targets  Back in Focus is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  Soft Targets Back in Focus | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis

From time to time, I will sit down to write a series of analyses on a  particular topic, such as the fundamentals of terrorism series last  February. Other times, unrelated events in different parts of the world are  tied together by analytical threads, naturally becoming a series. This is  what has happened with the last three weekly security analyses — a common  analytical narrative has risen to connect them.

First, we discussed how the Jan. 16 attack  against the Tigantourine natural gas facility near Ain Amenas,  Algeria, would result in increased security at energy facilities  in the region. Second, we discussed foreign  interventions in Libya and Syria and how they have regional or even  global consequences that can persist for years. Finally, last week  we discussed how the robust,  layered security at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara served to thwart a  suicide bombing.

Together, these topics spotlight the heightened and persistent terrorist  threat in North Africa as well as Turkey and the Levant. They also demonstrate  that militants in those regions will be able to acquire weapons with ease. But  perhaps the most important lesson from them is that as diplomatic missions are  withdrawn or downsized and as security is increased at embassies and energy  facilities, the threat is going to once again shift toward softer targets.

Soft Targets

Obviously, individuals desiring to launch a terrorist attack seek to strike  the highest-profile, most symbolic target possible. If it is well known,  the target can magnify the  terror, especially when the operation grabs the attention of international  media. Such extensive exposure not only allows people around the globe to  be informed minute by minute about unfolding events, but it also permits them to  become secondary, vicarious victims of the unfolding violence. The increased  exposure also ensures that the audience affected by the operation becomes far  larger than just those in the immediate vicinity of the attack. The attack  on the U.S. diplomatic office in Benghazi and the killing of U.S. Ambassador  Christopher Stevens led to months of media coverage that has included televised  congressional hearings and fierce partisan and bureaucratic squabbles in  the media. It was the terrorist equivalent of winning the lottery.

However, in the wake of terrorist attacks, increased situational awareness  and security measures make successful attacks difficult to replicate. Targets  become more difficult to attack — what we refer to as hard targets. When this  happens, attackers are forced to either escalate the size and force used in  their attack, identify a vulnerability they can exploit or risk  failure.

In the August 1998 attacks against the U.S. embassies in Nairobi,  Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, al Qaeda planners turned to the first  option: a larger attack. They attempted to use large truck bombs to  overcome the embassies’ layered security. The embassies had decent  perimeter security but lacked enough distance between the street and the  buildings to protect them from a large blast. In both attacks, the attackers  also tried unsuccessfully to get the bomb-laden trucks through perimeter  security vehicle checkpoints to detonate them closer to the embassy  buildings.

After those bombings, security enhancements made most diplomatic  facilities more difficult to attack, leading militant groups to turn  their attention to hotels. A strike on an international hotel in a  major city can make almost the same kind of statement against the West as a  strike on an embassy. Hotels are often full of Western business travelers,  diplomats, intelligence officers and, not insignificantly, members of the media.  This has made hotels target-rich environments for militants seeking to kill  Westerners and gain international media attention without having to penetrate  the extreme security of a hard target like a modern embassy.

But increased security is not the only factor that leads those wishing to  conduct a terrorist attack to gravitate toward softer targets. For the better  part of a decade, we have chronicled how  the global jihadist movement has devolved from an organizational model  based on centralized leadership and focused global goals to a more amorphous  model based on regional franchises with local goals and strong grassroots  support. For the most part, these regional franchises lack the training and  funding of the al Qaeda core and are therefore less capable. This means  franchise groups are often unable to attack hard targets and tend to focus on  softer targets — such as hotels or the U.S. ambassador while he is staying at a  poorly protected office in Benghazi rather than at his residence in Tripoli.

Changing Threats in North Africa

As hotels in places like Amman and Jakarta became harder to attack with large  vehicle bombs, attackers began to smuggle  in smaller devices to bypass the increased security. There was also a trend  in which attackers hit restaurants where Westerners congregated rather than the  more secure hotels.

The same dynamic will likely apply today in the Sahel. We believe  that the attack at the Tigantourine natural gas facility in Algeria was greatly  aided by the complacency of the security forces. The attackers did not  demonstrate any sort of advanced terrorist tactics or tradecraft. It would be  very hard to replicate the attack on another energy facility in the  region today due to increases in awareness and security. The  increase in security will be compounded by the fact that al Qaeda in the Islamic  Maghreb and its jihadist brethren in the Sahel lack sophisticated  terrorist capabilities and have lost their bases in northern Mali.  This means they will be hard-pressed to conduct a successful attack against a  hard target.

Furthermore, having lost substantial quantities of men and materiel, and with  French and African forces potentially interdicting their lucrative smuggling  routes, these jihadist groups will be looking to refill their coffers.  Kidnapping is a longstanding way for militant groups in the region to resolve  precisely these issues. Although they have lost control of the towns they  captured in northern Mali, these groups will continue to pose a  threat of kidnapping over a wide swath of North Africa.

Turkey and Lebanon

While the jihadist militants in Syria are currently fixated on attacking the  Syrian regime, there is nonetheless a non-jihadist threat in Turkey — and  perhaps Lebanon — that emanates from the Syrian intelligence and its proxy  groups in the region. However, the Feb. 1 attack against the U.S.  Embassy in Ankara demonstrated the limitations of the capabilities of one of  those proxies, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.

Carrying on the operational legacy of its parent organization, Devrimci Sol,  the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front aspires to conduct spectacular  attacks, but its attacks frequently fizzle or fail. Successfully striking a  hardened target such as the U.S. Embassy is beyond the group’s capability. In  fact, the group frequently botches attacks against softer targets, as in the  attack against an American fast food chain outlet in May 2012 that  failed when the explosive device malfunctioned.

The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front’s limited tactical  capability supports the theory that the attack against the U.S.  Embassy in Ankara was commissioned by the Syrian regime. The group has even  failed in suicide bombings against Turkish police stations with far  less security; it knew it was attacking something beyond its reach.  But at the same time, the group’s limited capability and the failure of the  attack against the U.S. Embassy will likely result in a shift to softer targets  if the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front was acting at Syria’s  behest and the Syrians have asked for additional anti-American attacks.

As noted last week, Devrimci Sol conducted dozens of attacks against U.S. and  NATO targets in Turkey during late 1990 and early 1991 at the behest of Saddam  Hussein. The majority of these attacks were directed against soft targets such  as U.S. corporate offices, nongovernmental organizations, hotels and  restaurants. We believe these same targets are in jeopardy of attack by  the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front now.

Syria maintains a number of proxy militants in Lebanon, including Hezbollah. Hezbollah has its own  calculations and may not be as willing as Syria’s smaller proxy groups  to act on Syria’s behalf. Hezbollah maintains a far more sophisticated militant  capability than these small groups and is able to attack hard targets, unlike  the smaller groups. Therefore, if the Syrians commission a terrorist  attack in Lebanon and Hezbollah does not help them, the attacks their proxy  groups will carry out will be quite limited — and will again focus on soft  targets.

For the most part, soft targets are soft by their very nature. It  is not only impractical to employ embassy-like security at a fast food  restaurant, but it is inordinately expensive — too expensive to be economically  feasible for a business. Still, there are some simple and practical security  measures that can be taken to make them slightly more secure and hopefully cause  anyone planning an attack to divert their operation toward an even  softer target.

Additionally, individuals living in or traveling to these places can and  should practice good situational  awareness, review their personal  contingency plans and mentally prepare  to respond to any crisis.

Read more:  Soft Targets Back in Focus | Stratfor

Leave a comment

Filed under Current affairs

The Past, Present and Future of Russian Energy Strategy – Stratfor

The  Past, Present and Future of Russian Energy Strategy is republished with  permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Past, Present and Future of Russian Energy Strategy | Stratfor

By Lauren Goodrich and Marc Lanthemann

The future of Russia’s ability to remain a global energy supplier and the  strength the Russian energy sector gives the Kremlin are increasingly in  question. After a decade of robust energy exports and revenues, Russia is  cutting natural gas prices to Europe while revenue projections for its energy  behemoth, Gazprom, are declining starting this year.

Russia holds the world’s largest proven reserves of natural gas and  continually alternates with Saudi Arabia as the top oil producer. The country  supplies a third of Europe’s oil and natural gas and is starting to export more  to the energy-hungry  East Asian markets. The energy sector is far more than a commercial asset  for Moscow; it has been one  of the pillars of Russia’s stabilization and increasing strength for more  than a century. The Kremlin has designated energy security as the primary issue  for Russia’s national security, especially since recent changes in global and  domestic trends have cast doubts on the energy sector’s continuing strength.

Throughout Russian history, the country’s energy sector periodically has  strengthened and weakened. Managing this cycle has been a centerpiece of  Russia’s domestic and foreign policy since czarist times. This historical burden  now rests on Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Russia’s Imperatives and the Energy Factor

Russia is an  inherently vulnerable country, surrounded by other great powers and  possessing no easily defensible borders. In addition, Russia is a massive,  mostly inhospitable territory populated by diverse ethnic groups that  historically have been at odds with Moscow’s centralized authority. This leaves  Russia with a clear set of imperatives to hold together as a country and  establish itself as a regional power. First, Russia must consolidate its society  under one authority. Second, it must expand its power across its immediate  neighborhood to create buffers against other powers. (The creation of the Soviet  Union is the clearest example of this imperative in action.) Finally, it must  leverage its natural resources to achieve a balance with the great powers beyond  its periphery.

Russia has used a variety of tools throughout history to achieve these  imperatives, ranging from agricultural exports to pure military  conquest and intimidation. Starting in the late 1800s, Russia added energy to  the list of vital commodities it could use to achieve its central strategic  goals. By the 1950s, Russia’s energy sector had become one of the major pillars  of its economic and political strength.

The revenues from oil and natural gas exports show how the energy sector  empowered the Kremlin to consolidate the country. Energy export  revenues for the Russian Empire began flowing into government coffers  in the late 1800s, with oil export revenues making up 7 percent of the export  earnings. These revenues rose to 14 percent in the late 1920s during the early  stages of the Soviet Union, and by the 1950s accounted for half of Soviet export  earnings. Currently, energy revenues make up half of the  government’s budget. This capital influx was and continues to be  instrumental in helping Russia build the military and industrial basis needed to  maintain its status as a regional — if not global — power. However, as the  Russian governments became dependent on energy, the revenues also became a large  vulnerability.

Beyond export revenues, the energy sector has contributed to the creation of  a domestically stable and industrialized state. Russia’s  domestic energy consumption is very high due to extremely cold weather for  most of the year, but despite inefficiencies within the energy sector  and the cost of producing energy, the country’s domestic reserves have  enabled Moscow to provide its citizens and the industries that employ them with  low energy prices.

The energy sector also contributes to Russia’s ability to expand its  influence to its immediate neighbors. Moscow’s use of energy as leverage in the  buffer states differs from country to country and ranges from controlling  regional energy production (as it previously did in the Azerbaijani and Kazakh  oil fields) to subsidizing cheap energy supplies to the countries and  controlling the energy transport infrastructure. Russia has used similar  strategies to shape relationships beyond the former Soviet states. For instance,  Russia is one of Europe’s two main energy suppliers and is the only European  supplier with large reserves of oil and natural gas and historically cheap  prices. Russia’s physical connectivity with Europe and ability to undercut any  competitor have served as the basis of many of Moscow’s relationships in  Europe.

Evolution of Russian Energy Strategies

Energy’s usefulness as a means of achieving Russia’s three main imperatives  has altered over time because Russia has had to change its strategies depending  on shifts in domestic or international circumstances. Moscow’s strength lies in  its flexibility in managing its energy sector.

The importance of Russian energy was established in the late 1800s, when the  monarchy saw great potential for the Russian Empire if it could develop this  sector on a large scale. However, the empire had neither the technology nor the  capital to start up an indigenous energy industry. As a solution, the monarchy  eased its foreign investment restrictions, inviting European and U.S. firms to  develop the Baku and Volga oil fields. This brought about a brief period of  warmer relations between the Russian Empire and many Western partners,  particularly the United Kingdom, France and the United States. All parties soon  realized that the only way to make the Russian oil business profitable despite  the high costs associated with the country’s harsh and vast geography was to  transform Russia into a massive producer. By the turn of the century, the  Russian Empire was producing 31 percent of global oil exports.

As the importance of the Russian Empire’s energy sector grew, it became clear  that Russia’s internal stability greatly affected the sector. The Bolsheviks  used the energy sector in their attempts to overthrow the monarchy in the early  1900s. The oil-producing regions were one of the primary hubs in which the  Bolsheviks operated because energy was one of the few sectors with organized  workers. In addition, the Bolsheviks used the oil rail networks to distribute  propaganda across the country and abroad. In 1904, when the Russian Empire  cracked down on an uprising in St.  Petersburg, mostly Bolshevik protesters set the Baku oil fields  on fire. This cut Russia’s oil exports by two-thirds, forcing Moscow and the  foreign markets to realize oil exports’ great vulnerability to Russian domestic  stability.

Russia’s modern energy strategies began forming after World War II.  With the Soviet Union left standing as one of two global hegemons towering over  a divided Europe, Moscow saw no barriers to achieving dominance in the global  energy field. Between the 1950s and 1960s, Soviet oil output had doubled, making  the Soviet Union once again the second-largest oil producer in the world and  primary supplier to both Eastern and Western Europe. Revenues from oil  exports started to make up nearly half of Soviet export income.

Because the Soviet Union was producing oil en masse and the Soviet  system kept labor costs low, Russia was able to sell its oil at prices  almost 50 percent lower than oil from the Middle East. The subsidization of  oil to the Soviet bloc and then to Western European countries helped Moscow  undercut Western regimes and strengthen its position in its own periphery  — a strategy that the CIA dubbed the Soviet Economic Offensive. For the  Soviets, this was not about making money (although they were making money) as  much as it was about shaping a sphere of influence and undermining the West.  This strategy came at a cost, since Moscow was not bringing in as much revenue  as it could and was producing oil inefficiently, rapidly depleting its  fields.

In the 1970s, the price of oil skyrocketed due to a series of crises mostly  in the Middle East. At the same time, Russia was already feeling the strain of  sustaining the massive Soviet Union. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s regime was  left with a choice: use the high global prices as a reason to raise prices in  Eastern Europe and benefit the Soviet economy, or continue subsidizing the  Eastern bloc in order to keep it beholden to Moscow and not push it to start  thinking about other energy sources. It was a choice between two  imperatives: Soviet national stability and holding the buffer zone. In the end,  Moscow chose to protect its own interests and in 1975 raised the price of  oil for its customers, allowing for further increases based on global  market prices. By 1976, oil prices in the Eastern bloc had nearly doubled,  remaining below global prices but rising high enough to force some countries in  the bloc to take out loans.

The Soviet focus on maintaining high energy revenues continued through the  mid-1980s, when these revenues accounted for nearly all of the Soviet Union’s  hard currency inflows. But the Soviets were dealt a double blow in the mid-1980s  when the price of oil collapsed and the West imposed an embargo on Soviet oil,  prompting Saudi Arabia to flood the oil markets. Moreover, the Soviet Union was  falling far behind the West in technology, particularly in energy and  agriculture. In response, starting in 1985, the Soviet Union moved closer to a  market-based energy economy, raising prices for the Eastern bloc, requiring hard  currencies for payment and allowing foreign firms to re-enter the energy  sector.

But Russian strategy shifts were not deep and timely enough to prevent the  collapse of the Soviet Union. In the decade following the fall of the Soviet  bloc, the Russian energy industry was in disarray. The energy liberalization  that started under Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s was taken to an extreme under  Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. As a result, production fell by half and the Russian  energy sector was divided between foreign groups and the emerging Russian  oligarch class.

This changed under Vladimir Putin in 2000. One of the first items on Putin’s  agenda to help stabilize the country was to consolidate the energy sector under  state control. This meant radically reversing the liberal policies from the two  decades before. The government effectively nationalized the majority of the  energy sector under three state behemoths: Gazprom,  Rosneft and Transneft. The Kremlin became more aggressive in negotiating supply  contracts with the former Soviet states and Europe, locking them into large  volumes at extraordinarily high prices because these customers had no  alternative energy supplies. The Kremlin also began cutting energy supplies to  certain markets — blaming troublesome transit states such as Ukraine — in  order to shape other political negotiations.

Though Moscow’s energy strategy became fairly aggressive, it helped bring  about a stronger and more stable Russia. Russian energy revenues soared due to  high global oil prices and the high natural gas prices it charged in Europe.  Russia had excess funds to pump into its political, social, economic and  military sectors. Energy politics also helped Russia leverage its influence in  its former backyard and forced Europe to step back from countering Russia’s  resurgence. Of course, the financial crises that swept Europe and Russia in  2008 reminded Russia of its need for its biggest energy clients when oil prices  dropped and demand began declining.

Challenges to Maintaining Russian Energy

Russia’s top concern is its vulnerability to fluctuations in the price of  energy. With half of the Russian budget coming from energy revenues (of that, 80  percent is from oil and 20 percent comes from natural gas), the government could  be crippled should energy prices fall. The Kremlin has already decreased its  budget projections for oil prices to $93 per barrel instead of $119 — though  even at that price, the government is playing a game of chance. Stratfor is not  in the business of forecasting oil prices, but historical patterns show that  major international crises and fluctuations in global consumption and production  patterns repeatedly have had sufficient impact on oil prices and on Moscow’s  revenues to destabilize the country.

Natural gas export revenues are also currently in question. With alternative  natural gas supplies coming online for Russia’s  largest consumer, Europe, the Kremlin has been forced to lower its prices in  recent months. This year, Gazprom expects to give European consumers  $4.7 billion — approximately 10 percent of Gazprom’s net revenues — in rebates  due to price cuts.

In its current configuration, Russia’s energy sector is under strain. The  consolidation of the sector mostly under two large state firms had many benefits  for the Kremlin, but after a decade of consolidation the disadvantages are  piling up. With little competition for Russia’s natural gas giant, Gazprom, the  firm is lagging in technology and is considered unfriendly to outside  investment. Russia’s oil giant, Rosneft, recently began evolving into a  larger monopoly like Gazprom, which could lead it to fall into a similar trap.  With future energy projects in Russia requiring more advanced technology (due to  their location and environment) and more capital, both Gazprom and Rosneft need  modernization and foreign investment.

Corruption is also a major factor, with varying estimates of 20 to 40 percent  of Gazprom’s revenues lost to either corrupt or inefficient practices. Rosneft  has similar problems. This loss would be sustainable with Moscow’s previous high  energy revenues, but it will not be sustainable in the future should energy  prices fall or the maintenance and expansion of the energy sector become more  expensive. The Kremlin is probing Gazprom, although with a culture of corruption  rampant throughout Russian history there is little the Kremlin will be able to  do to eliminate wrongdoing within the natural gas firm.

Moreover, Europe’s dependence on Russian energy is decreasing. The natural  gas shortages experienced throughout Europe during the Russian-Ukrainian  crises of 2006 and 2009 were a stark reminder of how vulnerable  European nations were because of their dependence on Russian natural gas  exports. Both unilaterally and through the European Union, European countries  began developing strategies that would allow them to mitigate not only Europe’s  vulnerability to disputes between Moscow and intermediary transit states, but  also its general dependence on energy from Russia.

The accelerated development of new and updated liquefied  natural gas import facilities is one such effort. This will give certain  countries — Lithuania and Poland, most notably — the ability to import natural  gas from suppliers around the globe and bypass Russia’s traditional lever:  physical connectivity. This is particularly significant in light of the  accelerated development of several unconventional natural gas plays in the  world, particularly the shale reserves in the United States. The development of  a pipeline project that would bring non-Russian Caspian natural gas to the  European market is another attempt — albeit less successful so far — to  decrease European dependence on Russian natural gas.

Additionally, a set of EU-wide policies, including the Third  Energy Package, has begun giving EU member nations the political and legal  tools to mitigate Gazprom’s dominance in their respective natural gas supply  chains. This common framework also allows European nations to present a more  unified front in challenging certain business practices they believe are  monopolistic — the latest example being the EU Commission probe into Gazprom’s  pricing strategy in Central Europe. This, coupled with the EU-funded efforts to  physically interconnect the natural gas grids of EU members in Central Europe,  has made it increasingly difficult for Russia to use natural gas pricing as a  foreign policy tool. This is a major change in the way Moscow has dealt with the  region for the past decade, when it rewarded closer ties with Russia with low  gas prices (as with Belarus) and increased rates for those who defied it (the  Baltics).

Finally, Russia faces the simple yet grave possibility that the escalating  financial and political crisis in Europe will continue to reduce the Continent’s  energy consumption, or at least preclude any growth in consumption in the next  decade.

Russia’s Next Move

The Putin administration is well aware of the challenges facing the Russian  energy sector. Russia’s attempts in the past decade to shift away from  dependence on energy exports by focusing on industrial development have not been  particularly successful and keep the country tied to the fate of its energy  sector. Russia’s strategy of using its energy exports as both a foreign  policy tool and a revenue generator is contradictory at times: To use energy in  foreign policy, Moscow must be able to lower or raise prices and threaten to cut  off supplies, which is anathema to the revenue-generating aspect.

Global and regional circumstances have changed to the point that Moscow has  had to prioritize one of the two uses of its energy industry — and it has  unequivocally decided to maintain its revenue-generating capability. The Kremlin  has begun crafting a set of policies designed to adjust the country to the  changes that will come in the next two decades.

First, Russia is addressing the very damaging uncertainty surrounding its  relationship with key transit states that traditionally allowed it to export  energy to Europe. The construction of the Ust-Luga oil terminal on the Baltic  Sea allows Russia to largely bypass the Belarus pipeline system and ship  crude and oil products directly to its consumers. Similarly, the construction of  the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea — and eventually its  southern counterpart, South  Stream, through the Black Sea — will allow Russian natural gas to bypass  the Ukrainian and Belarusian transit systems if necessary. These two  pipelines primarily will ensure natural gas deliveries to the major European  consumer markets in Germany and Italy, with which Russia seeks to maintain  long-term strategic partnerships.

By allowing Russia to guarantee deliveries to its major European customers,  the bypass systems ensure Moscow’s vital energy revenues. This strategy of  future energy export flexibility will also progressively reduce the leverage  Minsk and Kiev can exert in warding off Moscow’s attempts at consolidating  Belarus and Kiev as vassal buffer states — one of the few foreign policy goals  Moscow is still intent on pursuing through energy strategy.

Moreover, Moscow has adapted its energy strategy with European customers amid  growing diversification and liberalization efforts. Gazprom has begun expanding  the natural gas discounts formerly reserved for strategic partners such as  Germany or Italy. The Kremlin knows that its only hope of maintaining natural  gas revenues in the face of a potential global shale boom is to lock its  customers into price-competitive, long-term contracts. Moscow will continue  showing that it can offer European consumers guaranteed high volumes and  low-cost deliveries that producers relying on liquefied natural gas shipping for  transport can seldom afford.

Finally, Russia is focusing significant attention and funds on developing  connections to the growing East Asian energy markets, diversifying its export  portfolio should challenges in the European market continue intensifying. One  aspect common to all the strategies Russia is set to pursue for the next decade  is the high capital needed to complete them; the Eastern  Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline alone is set to cost nearly $15  billion. Despite the effects of the financial crisis in 2009, Russia still has  vast capital reserves earmarked for these large-scale projects, but these funds  are not infinite.

The Kremlin appears keenly aware of the challenges that Russia will face in  the next two decades as another energy cycle draws to an end. Unlike  Brezhnev and Gorbachev, Putin has proven capable of enacting effective  policy and strategy changes in the Russian energy sphere. While Russia’s  dependence on high oil prices continues to worry Moscow, Putin has so far  managed to respond proactively to the other external shifts in energy  consumption and production patterns — particularly those affecting the European  natural gas market. However, the long-term sustainability of the model  Russia is moving toward remains doubtful.

Read more:  The Past, Present and Future of Russian Energy Strategy | Stratfor

Leave a comment

Filed under Current affairs

When Security Measures Work – Stratfor

When  Security Measures Work is republished with permission of Stratfor.
Read more:  When Security Measures Work | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis

On Feb. 1, a Turkish national named Ecevit Sanli walked up to the side  entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara like many others had done that day.  Dressed inconspicuously, he waved a manila envelope at the man inside the guard  booth as he approached the entrance. The security guard had no reason to  distrust the man approaching the checkpoint; the entrance is used to screen  packages, and perhaps the guard assumed Sanli was dropping off a document or was  a visa applicant at the wrong entrance. What the guard did not know, perhaps, is  that Sanli was a person of interest to the Turkish police, who suspected that he  was plotting an attack.

The guard opened the door of the access control building — the outermost  door of the embassy compound — to speak to Sanli, who took one step inside  before detonating the explosive device that was strapped to his body. The  explosion killed Sanli and the security guard, seriously wounded a journalist  who was visiting the embassy and left two other local guards who were manning  the entrance with minor injuries.

The embassy’s local security personnel, as designed, bore the brunt of the  attack. They are hired and trained to prevent threats from penetrating the  embassy’s perimeter. The low casualty count of the Feb. 1 attack is a testament  to the training and professionalism of the local guards and the robust, layered  security measures in place at the embassy — factors for which those responsible  for the attack apparently did not sufficiently plan.

Layers of Security

Sanli apparently had hoped to breach the outer perimeter of the compound and  to detonate his device inside the embassy building. Reportedly he carried a  firearm and a hand grenade, and the way he approached the access control point  likewise suggests he hoped to gain entry. Had he wanted to kill Turkish  citizens, he could have done so simply by hitting the visa line outside the  embassy.

At embassy compounds, secondary access control posts for vehicles and  pedestrians typically are staffed with fewer guards than more heavily traversed  access points, such as the main entrance or the entrance to the consular  section. This particular access point had two guards at the vehicular entrance  and a third guard to receive and screen packages and pedestrians. Since there  was no drop slot for packages and envelopes, the guard inside the access point  had to open the exterior door to receive deliveries. It is likely that the  plotters knew about this procedure, which probably factored into their decision  to breach the perimeter at this entrance. Moreover, the attack happened around  lunchtime, so it is also possible that attackers thought the guards would be  inattentive.

Though these smaller access control points have fewer people guarding them,  they still boast at least two heavy security doors that all visitors must pass  through. Many embassy compounds, including the one in Ankara, have a third door  located inside the building. This multiple-door configuration, referred to as a  sally port by security officers, provides an additional level of security at  perimeter security posts. Sally ports equipped with magnetic locks and  reinforced doors can also serve as effective traps for intruders.

The access control point constitutes just the outer perimeter of the embassy.  There is also another layer of external security at the entrance to the embassy  building itself. It is possible that Sanli thought he could somehow use his  weapon or grenade to penetrate that layer once he got through the access control  center, but the forced entry/bullet resistant doors and windows on the embassy’s  exterior would not have been quickly or easily penetrated by such weapons.

Whatever his plan, Sanli never had the opportunity to fully execute it. He  was stopped immediately inside the access control center by the security guard  and detonated his suicide device just inside the door. The force of the blast  blew the outer security door off its hinges and cracked the reinforced concrete  exterior wall of the access control building. But the embassy perimeter was not  breached, and Sanli never got near the embassy building.

Security Designs

Embassy security measures are designed with specific threats in mind. Sanli,  for example, executed precisely the type of attack that embassy security was  meant to counter: an isolated terrorist strike that circumvents a host country’s  police and security services. Ankara is an older embassy office building, but it  has received security upgrades over the past few decades that have given the  facility decent access control and concentric layers of security meant to stymie  intrusions.

Like most older embassy buildings, however, it does not meet the security  requirements put in place in the wake of the embassy bombings of the 1980s. The U.S. Consulate  General building in Istanbul, which was completed in 2003, exemplifies a  building that meets those requirements. Not only is it constructed to  specifications, it is also appropriately far enough from the street to help  counter threats, such as those posed by Sanli, and to help withstand the damage  of a vehicle bomb.

But even the most modern embassies cannot withstand all types of threats,  including those posed by long periods of mob violence. On Sept. 14, 2012, a large mob  overwhelmed the outer security perimeter of the U.S. Embassy in  Tunis — a newer facility with a robust security design — causing  millions of dollars of damage. Tunisian authorities responded quickly enough to  prevent the mob from entering the main embassy building, but with sufficient  time the  mob could have breached the facility.

Such was the case at the newly built and occupied U.S. Embassy in Tripoli,  Libya, in May 2011. After U.S. diplomats were ordered to leave the country, the  local security force was unable to prevent a large  mob, which constituted security forces and Moammar Gadhafi supporters, from  ransacking, looting and burning the facility. The attack rendered the building  uninhabitable.

Embassy security measures are also not designed to prevent prolonged  assaults by militant groups armed with heavy weapons. Security measures can  only provide a delay against a persistent attack by a mob or militant  organization. They cannot withstand an indefinite assault. Without extraordinary  security like that of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in the 1980s and 1990s, embassy  security only works when the facility enjoys the support and protection of the  host country as mandated by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The Attackers’ Weakness

Sanli’s method of attack played right into the strength of the embassy’s  security measures. Perhaps he and his colleagues in the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front believed Sanli could threaten or shoot his way through  the embassy’s concentric rings of physical security. If so, they underestimated  the physical security measures in place and the dedication and bravery of the  local guard force.

Notably, attack planning is not a strength of the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front. Over the past decade, the group has conducted several  attacks, including five suicide bombings, but their attacks have been famously  poorly planned and executed. Often they fail to kill anyone but the suicide  bomber. They also have had problems with the reliability of their improvised  explosive devices, such as the suicide vest that failed to detonate during  the suicide  bombing attack against the Turkish justice minister in April 2009.

The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front’s Sept. 11, 2012, suicide  bombing against a police station in Istanbul killed the bomber and one police  officer. In that attack, the bomber threw a grenade at the security checkpoint  at the building’s entrance, but when the grenade failed to detonate he was  unable to get past security at the building’s entrance. Only then, in a move  similar to the Feb. 1 attack, did he detonate his device.

Following Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Devrimci Sol, the Revolutionary  People’s Liberation Party-Front’s parent organization, conducted a spate of  attacks in Turkey that targeted the United States and NATO. Because of the  timing, U.S. terrorism investigators believed that Saddam Hussein’s government  sponsored these attacks. Currently, some leaders of the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front’s factions live in Syria and maintain close connections  with the al Assad regime. Some of the group’s militants have fought with the  regime forces, and the group has published statements supporting the al Assad  regime. They have also fomented pro-al Assad and anti-intervention  demonstrations inside Turkey. This pro-Syrian sentiment, or perhaps even  financial enticement from the Syrian government itself, could explain the motive  for the attack against the U.S. Embassy. Therefore, it is possible that there  could be other anti-U.S. or anti-NATO attacks like those seen in 1991.

The Feb. 1 bombing serves as a timely reminder of several facts that tend to  be overlooked. It reminds us of the underlying terrorist threat in Turkey. It  also reminds us that not all suicide bombers are jihadists, let alone religious.  Indeed, there is a long history  of secular groups engaging in suicide terrorism. Last, it reminds us that  not all threats emanate from al Qaeda and the constellation of groups and  individual actors gathered around its ideological banner.

Perhaps most important, the incident highlights the heroism and dedication of  the local guards who serve at U.S. embassies around the world. In the Feb. 1  attack, the embassy’s security equipment functioned as designed, and the guards  performed as they were trained, undoubtedly saving many lives. These local  guards are often criticized when they make a mistake, but they are too  frequently overlooked when security works.

Read more:  When Security Measures Work | Stratfor

1 Comment

Filed under Current affairs

US-Iranian Dialogue in Obama’s Second Term – Stratfor

U.S.-Iranian  Dialogue in Obama’s Second Term is republished with permission of  Stratfor.”

Read more:  U.S.-Iranian Dialogue in Obama’s Second Term | Stratfor

By Reva Bhalla Vice President of Global  Affairs

As U.S. President Barack Obama’s second-term foreign policy team begins to  take shape, Iran remains unfinished business for the U.S. administration. The  diplomatic malaise surrounding this issue over the past decade has taken its  toll on Washington and Tehran. Even as the United States and Iran are putting  out feelers for another round of negotiations, expectations for any breakthrough  understandably remain low. Still, there has been enough movement over the past  week to warrant a closer look at this long-standing diplomatic impasse.

At the Munich Security Conference held Feb. 1-3, U.S. Vice President Joe  Biden said the United States would be willing to hold direct talks with Iran  under the right conditions. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi responded  positively to the offer but warned that Iran would not commit unless Washington  shows a “fair and real” intention to resolve the issues dividing the two  sides.

An Uneven Record in U.S.-Iranian Diplomacy

This diplomatic  courting ritual between the United States and Iran has occurred a handful of  times over the past several years. Like previous times, the public offer of  talks was preceded by denials of secret pre-negotiations. (This time, Ali Akbar  Velayati, a presidential hopeful and senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denied that he met with a U.S. representative in Oman.)  Meanwhile, as a sideshow to the more critical U.S.-Iranian bilateral track, Iran  has announced it will hold negotiations with the P-5+1 group Feb. 25 in  Kazakhstan to demonstrate its willingness to seek a compromise on the nuclear  issue as part of a broader deal. For good measure, Iran has balanced these  diplomatic moves with an announcement that it is upgrading uranium centrifuges  at the Natanz enrichment facility. Though this  will rile Israel, the thought of Iran accelerating its nuclear program could  add just the right amount of urgency to propel the talks.

The first step to any negotiation is defining a common interest. For the  United States and Iran, those interests have evolved over the past decade. In  2003, they shared an interest in bringing Saddam Hussein down and neutralizing a  Sunni jihadist threat. By 2007, it was a mutual interest in relieving  the U.S. military burden in Iraq. In 2011, it was a common interest in  avoiding a war in the Strait of Hormuz. In 2013, as the region fragments beyond  either side’s control, Washington and Tehran are each looking to prevent the  coming quagmire from undermining their respective positions in the Middle  East.

But talks have also stalled many times due to issues of timing, misreading of  intentions, lack of political cohesion or a number of other valid reasons. At  base, timing is everything. Both sides need to create a favorable political  climate at home to pursue controversial negotiations abroad. Complicating  matters, both sides have the mutually contradictory goal of negotiating from a  position of strength. In 2007, Iran could still claim to hold thousands of U.S.  troops hostage to attacks by its Shiite militant proxies in Iraq. In 2011, a Shiite  uprising in Bahrain threatened to upset the balance of power in the Persian  Gulf in Iran’s favor while Iran could at the same time shake energy markets with  military maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran, however, couldn’t hold that position for long. With time, Tehran’s  still-limited covert capabilities in the eastern Arabian Peninsula were exposed.  Meanwhile, the United States built up its military presence in the Persian Gulf.  With minesweepers  now concentrated in the area, Iran now must think twice before carrying out  provocations in the strait that could accidentally trigger a military  intervention.

Before Tehran could recover, the regional climate flipped against Iran. In  2012, the Sunni rebellion in  Syria gained steam, in no small part due to a growing regional imperative to  deprive Iran of its Mediterranean foothold in the Levant. As Iran’s position in  Syria and Lebanon began to slip, the Sunni momentum predictably spilled into  Iraq, where massive Sunni protests against the Shiite government in Baghdad  already are under way.

Now, Iran no longer poses a strategic threat to U.S. interests in the way it  did just a few years ago, and the prospect of Iran solidifying an arc of  influence from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean has evaporated. Iran is  on the defensive, trying to help its allies survive in Syria and Lebanon while  at the same time being forced to devote more resources to holding its position  in Iraq. And while Iran’s overseas expenses are rising, its budget is  simultaneously shrinking under the weight of sanctions. U.S.-  and European-led sanctions over the past two years have gradually moved from  a policy of targeted sanctions against individuals and firms to a near-total  trade embargo that has prompted some Iranian officials to openly admit that  Iran’s oil revenues have dropped more than 40 percent.

At this point, the United States has two options. It could allow the regional  forces to run their course and whittle down Iran’s strength over time. Or it  could exploit the current conditions and try negotiating with Iran from a  position of strength while it still has the military capacity to pose a  legitimate threat to Iran. Iran may be weakening, but it still has levers with  which to pressure the United States. Preparations are already under way for  Alawite forces in Syria to transition to an insurgency with Iran’s backing. In  Afghanistan, Iran has militant options to snarl an already fragile U.S. exit  strategy. So far, the United States has shown a great deal of restraint in  Syria; it does not want to find itself being drawn into another conflict zone in  the Islamic world where Iran can play a potent spoiler role.

It appears that the United States is pursuing the strategy of giving  negotiations another go with the expectation that these talks will extend beyond  the immediate nuclear issue. Iran has frequently complained that it cannot trust  the United States if Washington cannot speak with one voice. For example, while  the U.S. administration has pursued talks in the past, Congress has tightened  economic sanctions and has tried to insert clauses to prevent any rollback of  sanctions. The economic pressure produced by the sanctions has helped the United  States fortify its negotiating position, but the administration has tried to  reserve options by keeping a list of sanctions it could repeal layer by layer  should the talks yield progress.

Seeking Flexibility in Sanctions

Washington could look to Europe for more flexibility for its negotiating  needs. In a recent story overlooked by the mainstream media, the General Court  of the European Union on Jan. 29 revoked sanctions against Bank Mellat, one of  the largest commercial banks in Iran that is primarily involved in financing  Iran’s vital energy sector. Bank Mellat was sanctioned in 2010 based on  allegations that it was a state-owned bank involved in Iran’s nuclear  proliferation activities. But the EU court has now ruled that there was  insufficient evidence to link the bank to the nuclear program. Even so, though  Iran claims that the bank has been fully privatized since 2010, it is difficult  to believe that it does not maintain vital links with the regime. Nonetheless,  rumors are circulating that more EU sanctions de-listings could be in store.

Given the impossibility of sealing every legal loophole, perception plays a  vital role in upholding any sanctions regime. Over the past two years, the  United States — in coordination with an even more aggressive European Union —  has signaled to traders, banks and insurers across the globe that the costs of  doing business with Iran are not worth jeopardizing their ability to operate in  Western markets. Enough businessmen were spooked into curbing, or at least  scaling back, their interaction with Iran and known Iranian front companies that  Iran has experienced a significant cut in revenue. But with large amounts of  money to be made in a market under sanctions, it can be very difficult  politically to maintain this level of economic pressure over an extended period  of time. And the more the sanctions begin to resemble a trade embargo, the more  ammunition Iran has for its propaganda arm in claiming sanctions are harming  Iranian civilians. The prospect of additional sanctions being repealed in court  in the coming months could deflate the West’s economic campaign against Iran and  give more businesses the confidence to break the sanctions — but if the  sanctions were intended to force negotiations in the first place, that may be a  risk the U.S. administration is willing to take.

There is no clear link between the recent U.S. offer of talks and the  sanctions de-listing of Bank Mellat. But if the United States were serious about  using its position of relative strength to pursue a deal with Iran, we would  expect to see some slight easing up on the sanctions pressure. This would likely  begin in Europe, where there would be more flexibility in the sanctions  legislation than there would be in the U.S. Congress. Germany,  Iran’s largest trading partner in Europe, has perhaps not coincidentally  been the strongest proponent for this latest attempt at direct U.S.-Iranian  talks. It is also notable that U.S. President Barack Obama’s picks for his  second-term Cabinet include senators Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, both of who  have openly advocated dialogue with Iran.

Iran is now the most critical player to watch. Iran is weakening in the  region and is becoming heavily constrained at home, but even so, the clerical  regime is not desperate to reach a deal with Washington. Reaching an  understanding with the United States could mitigate the decline of Alawite  forces in Syria and the Sunni backlash that Iran is likely to face in Iraq, but  it would not necessarily forestall them. And with general elections in Iran  slated for June, the political climate in the country will not be conducive to  the give-and-take needed to move the negotiations forward, at least in the near  term.

The United States would prefer to reduce the number of unknowns in an  increasingly volatile region by reaching an understanding with Iran. The irony  is that with or without that understanding, Iran’s position in the region will  continue to weaken. Even if Washington doesn’t need this negotiation as badly as  Iran does, now is as good a time as any for a second-term president to give this  dialogue another try.

Read more:  U.S.-Iranian Dialogue in Obama’s Second Term | Stratfor

1 Comment

Filed under Current affairs

The Consequences of Intervening in Syria – Stratfor

The  Consequences of Intervening in Syria is republished with permission of  Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Consequences of Intervening in Syria | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis, Stratfor

The French military’s current campaign to dislodge jihadist  militants from northern Mali and the recent  high-profile attack against a natural gas facility in Algeria are both  directly linked to the foreign intervention in Libya that overthrew the Gadhafi  regime. There is also a strong connection between these events and foreign  powers’ decision not to intervene in Mali when the military  conducted a coup in March 2012. The coup occurred as thousands of heavily  armed Tuareg tribesmen were returning home to northern Mali after serving in  Moammar Gadhafi’s military, and the confluence of these events resulted in an  implosion of the Malian military and a power vacuum in the north. Al Qaeda in  the Islamic Maghreb and other jihadists were able to take advantage of this  situation to seize power in the northern part of the African nation.

As all these events transpire in northern Africa, another type of foreign  intervention is occurring in Syria. Instead of direct foreign military  intervention, like that taken against the Gadhafi regime in Libya in 2011, or  the lack of intervention seen in Mali in March 2012, the West — and its Middle  Eastern partners — have pursued a middle-ground  approach in Syria. That is, these powers are providing logistical aid to the  various Syrian rebel factions but are not intervening directly.

Just as there were repercussions for the decisions to conduct a direct  intervention in Libya and not to intervene in Mali, there will be repercussions  for the partial intervention approach in Syria. Those consequences are  becoming more apparent as the crisis drags on.

Intervention in Syria

For more than a year now, countries such as the United States, Turkey, Saudi  Arabia, Qatar and European states have been providing aid to the Syrian rebels.  Much of this aid has been in the form of humanitarian assistance, providing  things such as shelter, food and medical care for refugees. Other aid has helped  provide the rebels with non-lethal military supplies such as radios and  ballistic vests. But a review of the weapons spotted on the battlefield reveals  that the rebels are also receiving an increasing number of lethal supplies.

Visit our Syria  page for related analysis, videos, situation reports and maps.

For example, there have been numerous videos released showing Syrian rebels  using weapons such as the M79 Osa rocket launcher, the RPG-22, the M-60  recoilless rifle and the RBG-6 multiple grenade launcher. The Syrian government  has also released videos of these weapons after seizing them in arms caches.  What is so interesting about these weapons is that they were not in the Syrian  military’s inventory prior to the crisis, and they all likely were purchased  from Croatia. We have also seen many reports and photos of Syrian rebels  carrying Austrian Steyr Aug rifles, and the Swiss government has complained that  Swiss-made hand grenades sold to the United Arab Emirates are making their way  to the Syrian rebels.

With the Syrian rebel groups using predominantly second-hand weapons from the  region, weapons captured from the regime, or an assortment of odd ordnance they  have manufactured themselves, the appearance and spread of these exogenous  weapons in rebel arsenals over the past several months is at first glance  evidence of external arms supply. The appearance of a single Steyr Aug or RBG-6  on the battlefield could be an interesting anomaly, but the variety and  concentration of these weapons seen in Syria are well beyond the point where  they could be considered coincidental.

This means that the current level of external intervention in Syria is  similar to the level exercised against the Soviet Union and its communist  proxies following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The external  supporters are providing not only training, intelligence and assistance, but  also weapons — exogenous weapons that make the external provision of weapons  obvious to the world. It is also interesting that in Syria, like Afghanistan,  two of the major external supporters are Washington and Riyadh — though in  Syria they are joined by regional powers such as Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the  United Arab Emirates, rather than Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, the Saudis and the Americans allowed their partners in  Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to determine which of the myriad  militant groups in Afghanistan received the bulk of the funds and weapons they  were providing. This resulted in two things. First, the Pakistanis funded and  armed groups that they thought they could best use as surrogates in Afghanistan  after the Soviet withdrawal. Second, they pragmatically tended to funnel cash  and weapons to the groups that were the most successful on the battlefield —  groups such as those led by Gulbuddin  Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin  Haqqani, whose effectiveness on the battlefield was tied directly to their  zealous theology that made waging jihad against the infidels a religious duty  and death during such a struggle the ultimate accomplishment.

A similar process has been taking place for nearly two years in Syria. The  opposition groups that have been the most effective on the battlefield have  tended to be the jihadist-oriented groups such as Jabhat  al-Nusra. Not surprisingly, one reason for their effectiveness was the  skills and tactics they learned fighting the coalition forces in Iraq. Yet  despite this, the Saudis — along with the Qataris and the Emiratis — have been  arming and funding the jihadist groups in large part because of their success on  the battlefield. As my colleague Kamran Bokhari noted in February 2012, the  situation in Syria was providing  an opportunity for jihadists, even without external support. In the  fractured landscape of the Syrian opposition, the unity of purpose and  battlefield effectiveness of the jihadists was in itself enough to ensure that  these groups attracted a large number of new recruits.

But that is not the only factor conducive to the radicalization of Syrian  rebels. First, war — and particularly a brutal, drawn-out war — tends to make  extremists out of the fighters involved in it. Think Stalingrad, the Cold War  struggles in Central America or the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans following  the dissolution of Yugoslavia; this degree of struggle and suffering tends to  make even non-ideological people ideological. In Syria, we have seen many  secular Muslims become stringent jihadists. Second, the lack of hope for an  intervention by the West removed any impetus for maintaining a secular  narrative. Many fighters who had pinned their hopes on NATO were greatly  disappointed and angered that their suffering was ignored. It is not unusual for  Syrian fighters to say something akin to, “What has the West done for us? We now  have only God.”

When these ideological factors were combined with the infusion of money and  arms that has been channeled to jihadist groups in Syria over the past year, the  growth of Syrian jihadist groups accelerated dramatically. Not only are they a  factor on the battlefield today, but they also will be a force to be reckoned  with in the future.

The Saudi Gambit

Despite the jihadist blowback the Saudis  experienced after the end of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan  — and the current object lesson of the jihadists Syria sent to fight U.S.  forces in Iraq now leading groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra — the Saudi  government has apparently calculated that its use of jihadist proxies in Syria  is worth the inherent risk.

There are some immediate benefits for Riyadh. First, the Saudis hope to be  able to break the arc of Shiite  influence that reaches from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.  Having lost the Sunni counterweight to Iranian power in the region with the fall  of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the installation of a Shiite-led government  friendly to Iran, the Saudis view the possibility of installing a friendly Sunni  regime in Syria as a dramatic improvement to their national security.

Supporting the jihad in Syria as a weapon against Iranian influence also  gives the Saudis a chance to burnish their Islamic credentials internally in an  effort to help stave off criticism that they are too secular and Westernized. It  allows the Saudi regime the opportunity to show that it is helping Muslims under  assault by the vicious Syrian regime.

Supporting jihadists in Syria also gives the Saudis an opportunity to ship  their own radicals to Syria, where they can fight and possibly die. With a large  number of unemployed, underemployed and radicalized young men, the jihad in  Syria provides a pressure valve similar to the past struggles in Iraq, Chechnya,  Bosnia and Afghanistan. The Saudis are not only trying to winnow down their own  troubled youth; we have received reports from a credible source that the Saudis  are also facilitating the travel of Yemeni men to training camps in Turkey,  where they are trained and equipped before being sent to Syria to fight. The  reports also indicate that the young men are traveling for free and receiving a  stipend for their service. These young radicals from Saudi Arabia and Yemen will  even further strengthen the jihadist groups in Syria by providing them with  fresh troops.

The Saudis are gaining temporary domestic benefits from supporting jihad in  Syria, but the conflict will not last forever, nor will it result in the deaths  of all the young men who go there to fight. This means that someday the men who  survive will come back home, and through the process we refer to as “tactical  Darwinism” the inept fighters will have been weeded out, leaving a core  of competent militants that the Saudis will have to deal with.

But the problems posed by jihadist proxies in Syria will have  effects beyond the House of Saud. The Syrian jihadists will pose a threat to  the stability of Syria in much the same way the Afghan groups did in the civil  war they launched for control of Afghanistan after the fall of the Najibullah  regime. Indeed, the violence in Afghanistan got worse after Najibullah’s fall in  1992, and the suffering endured by Afghan civilians in particular was  egregious.

Now we are seeing that the jihadist militants in Libya pose a threat not only  to the Libyan regime — there are serious problems in eastern Libya — but also  to foreign interests in the country, as seen in the attack on the British  ambassador and the U.S. diplomatic mission in  Benghazi. Moreover, the events in Mali and Algeria in recent months show  that Libya-based militants and the weapons they possess also pose a regional  threat. Similar long-lasting and wide-ranging repercussions can be expected to  flow from the intervention in Syria.

Read more:  The Consequences of Intervening in Syria | Stratfor

Leave a comment

Filed under Current affairs

Ferocious, Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy – Stratfor

Ferocious,  Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy is republished with permission of  Stratfor.”

Read more:  Ferocious, Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy | Stratfor

By George Friedman Founder  and Chairman, Stratfor

North Korea’s state-run media reported Sunday that North  Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the country’s top security officials  to take “substantial and high-profile important state measures,” which has been  widely interpreted to mean that North  Korea is planning its third nuclear test. Kim said the orders were  retaliation for the U.S.-led push to tighten U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang  following North Korea’s missile test in October. A few days before Kim’s  statement emerged, the North Koreans said future tests would target the United  States, which North Korea regards as its key adversary along with Washington’s  tool, South Korea.

North Korea has been using the threat of tests and the tests themselves as  weapons against its neighbors and the United States for years. On the surface,  threatening to test weapons does not appear particularly sensible. If the test  fails, you look weak. If it succeeds, you look dangerous without  actually having a deliverable weapon. And the closer you come to having a  weapon, the more likely someone is to attack you so you don’t succeed in  actually getting one. Developing a weapon in absolute secret would seem to make  more sense. When the weapon is ready, you display it, and you have something  solid to threaten enemies with.

North Korea, of course, has been doing this for years and doing it  successfully, so what appears absurd on the surface quite obviously isn’t. On  the contrary, it has proved to be a very effective maneuver. North Korea is  estimated to have a gross domestic product of about $28 billion, about the same  as Latvia or Turkmenistan. Yet it has maneuvered itself into a situation where  the United States, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea have sat  down with it at the negotiating table in a bid to persuade it not to build  weapons. Sometimes, the great powers give North Korea money and food to persuade  it not to develop weapons. It sometimes agrees to a halt, but then resumes its  nuclear activities. It never completes a weapon, but it frequently threatens to  test one. And when it carries out such tests, it claims its tests are directed  at the United States and South Korea, as if the test itself were a threat.

There is brilliance in North Korea’s strategy. When the Soviet Union  collapsed, North Korea was left in dire economic straits. There were reasonable  expectations that its government would soon collapse, leading to the unification  of the Korean Peninsula. Naturally, the goal of the North Korean government was  regime survival, so it was terrified that outside powers would invade or support  an uprising against it. It needed a strategy that would dissuade anyone from  trying that. Being weak in every sense, this wasn’t going to be easy, but the  North Koreans developed a strategy that we  described more than 10 years ago as ferocious, weak and crazy. North Korea  has pursued this course since the 1990s, and the latest manifestation of this  strategy was on display last week. The strategy has worked marvelously and is  still working.

A Three-Part Strategy

First, the North Koreans positioned themselves as ferocious by appearing to  have, or to be on the verge of having, devastating power. Second, they  positioned themselves as being weak such that no matter how ferocious they are,  there would be no point in pushing them because they are going to collapse  anyway. And third, they positioned themselves as crazy, meaning pushing them  would be dangerous since they were liable to engage in the greatest risks  imaginable at the slightest provocation.

In the beginning, Pyongyang’s ability to appear ferocious was limited to the North Korean army’s  power to shell Seoul. It had massed artillery along the border and could  theoretically devastate the southern capital, assuming the North had enough  ammunition, its artillery worked and air power didn’t lay waste to its massed  artillery. The point was not that it was going to level Seoul but that it had  the ability to do so. There were benefits to outsiders in destabilizing the  northern regime, but Pyongyang’s ferocity — uncertain though its capabilities  were — was enough to dissuade South Korea and its allies from trying to  undermine the regime. Its later move to develop missiles and nuclear weapons  followed from the strategy of ferocity — since nothing was worth a nuclear war,  enraging the regime by trying to undermine it wasn’t worth the risk.

Many nations have tried to play the ferocity game, but the North Koreans  added a brilliant and subtle twist to it: being weak. The  North Koreans advertised the weakness of their economy, particularly its  food insecurity, by various means. This was not done overtly, but by allowing  glimpses of its weakness. Given the weakness of its economy and the difficulty  of life in North Korea, there was no need to risk trying to undermine the North.  It would collapse from its own defects.

This was a double inoculation. The North Koreans’ ferocity with weapons whose  effectiveness might be questionable, but still pose an unquantifiable threat,  caused its enemies to tread carefully. Why risk unleashing its ferocity when its  weakness would bring it down? Indeed, a constant debate among Western analysts  over the North’s power versus its weakness combines to paralyze  policymakers.

The North Koreans added a third layer to perfect all of this. They portrayed  themselves as crazy, working to appear unpredictable, given to extravagant  threats and seeming to welcome a war. Sometimes, they reaffirmed they were crazy  via steps like sinking South Korean ships for no apparent reason. As in poker,  so with the North: You can play against many sorts of players, from those who  truly understand the odds to those who are just playing for fun, but never, ever  play poker against a nut. He  is totally unpredictable, can’t be gamed, and if you play with his head you  don’t know what will happen.

So long as the North Koreans remained ferocious, weak and crazy, the best  thing to do was not irritate them too much and not to worry what kind of  government they had. But being weak and crazy was the easy part for the North;  maintaining its appearance of ferocity was more challenging. Not only did the  North Koreans have to keep increasing their ferocity, they had to avoid  increasing it so much that it overpowered the deterrent effect of their weakness  and craziness.

A Cautious Nuclear Program

Hence, we have North Korea’s eternal nuclear program. It never quite produces  a weapon, but no one can be sure whether a weapon might be produced. Due to  widespread perceptions that the North Koreans are crazy, it is widely believed  they might rush to complete their weapon and go to war at the slightest  provocation. The result is the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South  Korea holding meetings with North Korea to try to persuade it not to do  something crazy.

Interestingly, North Korea never does anything significant and dangerous, or  at least not dangerous enough to break the pattern. Since the Korean War, North  Korea has carefully calculated its actions, timing them to avoid any move that  could force a major reaction. We see this caution built into its nuclear  program. After more than a decade of very public ferocity, the North Koreans  have not come close to a deliverable weapon. But since if you upset them, they  just might, the best bet has been to tread lightly and see if you can gently  persuade them not to do something insane.

The North’s positioning is superb: Minimal risky action sufficient to lend  credibility to its ferocity and craziness plus endless rhetorical threats  maneuvers North Korea into being a major global threat in the eyes of the great  powers. Having won themselves this position, the North Koreans are not about to  risk it, even if a 20-something leader is hurling threats.

The China Angle and the Iranian Pupil

There is, however, a somewhat more interesting dimension emerging. Over the  years, the United States, Japan and South Korea have looked to the Chinese to  intercede and persuade the North Koreans not to do anything rash. This  diplomatic pattern has established itself so firmly that we wonder what the  actual Chinese role is in all this. China is currently engaged in territorial  disputes with U.S. allies in the South and East China seas. Whether anyone would  or could go to war over islands in these waters is dubious, but the situation is  still worth noting.

The Chinese and  the Japanese have been particularly hostile toward one another in recent  weeks in terms of rhetoric and moving their ships around. A crisis in North  Korea, particularly one in which the North tested a nuclear weapon, would  inevitably initiate the diplomatic dance whereby the Americans and Japanese ask  the Chinese to intercede with the North Koreans. The Chinese would oblige.  This is not a great effort for them, since having detonated a nuclear device,  the North isn’t interested in doing much more. In fact, Pyongyang will be  drawing on the test’s proverbial fallout for some time. The Chinese are calling  in no chits with the North Koreans, and the Americans and Japanese — terribly  afraid of what the ferocious, weak, crazy North Koreans will do next — will be  grateful to China for defusing the “crisis.” And who could be so churlish as to  raise issues on trade or minor islands when China has used its power to force  North Korea to step down?

It is impossible for us to know what the Chinese are thinking, and we have no  overt basis for assuming the Chinese and North Koreans are collaborating, but we  do note that China has taken an increasing interest in stabilizing North Korea.  For its part, North Korea has tended to stage these crises — and their  subsequent Chinese interventions — at quite useful times for Beijing.

It should also be noted that other countries have learned the ferocious,  weak, crazy maneuver from North Korea. Iran is the best pupil. It has  convincingly portrayed itself as ferocious via its nuclear program, endlessly  and quite publicly pursuing its program without ever quite succeeding. It is  also persistently seen as weak, perpetually facing  economic crises and wrathful mobs of iPod-wielding youths. Whether Iran can  play the weakness card as skillfully as North Korea remains unclear — Iran just  doesn’t have the famines North Korea has.

Additionally, Iran’s rhetoric at times can certainly be considered crazy:  Tehran has carefully cultivated perceptions that it would wage nuclear war even  if this meant the death of all Iranians. Like North Korea, Iran also has managed  to retain its form of government and its national sovereignty. Endless  predictions of the fall of the Islamic republic to a rising generation have  proved false.

I do not mean to appear to be criticizing the “ferocious, weak and crazy”  strategy. When you are playing a weak hand, such a strategy can yield  demonstrable benefits. It preserves regimes, centers one as a major  international player and can wring concessions out of major powers. It can be  pushed too far, however, when the fear of ferocity and craziness undermines the  solace your opponents find in your weakness.

Diplomacy is the art of nations achieving their ends without resorting to  war. It is particularly important for small, isolated nations to survive without  going to war. As in many things, the paradox of appearing willing to go to war  in spite of all rational calculations can be the foundation for avoiding war. It  is a sound strategy, and for North Korea and Iran, for the time being at least,  it has worked.

Read more:  Ferocious, Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy | Stratfor

Leave a comment

Filed under Current affairs