Saturday, June 19, 2010

China's rise to great power status is moving along steadily, and US policymakers are acknowledging it publicly.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made the following comment at a June 16th Hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommitee on Defense (in response to a question about arms sales to Taiwan from Senator Dianne Feinstein):

And I was struck by an article in the local press in Singapore following that session. Somebody asked one of these Chinese generals or some Chinese general -- it may not have been one present -- "You guys have known about these sales for decades. Why all of a sudden are you raising such a stink about them?" And -- and this general's response was, "We had to accept it when we were weak. We are no longer weak."
China has a long history of being pushed around by Western powers. It was "opened" by the British in the mid-19th Century (when the British acquired Hong Kong), and subsequently maintained as an open trading partner by force by various Western powers, including the US. As an underdeveloped country lacking economic and military power, China was (mostly) forced to accept the terms dictated to it by others.

Since China became the state we know today, it has espoused an ideology of "peaceful rising." In a nutshell, China knows it deserves a place among the great powers, but won't ruffle any feathers along the way.

Recently however, China has begun to assert itself. Its actions at the Copenhagen climate conference and its stance towards the sinking of the South Korean navy corvette Cheonan have alienated would-be partners, and have amounted to a policy that Daniel Drezner describes (diplomatically) as "Pissing Off as Many Countries As Possible."

Given this trend, how should the US address China today and in its future policies?

I would like to start out by making a disclaimer as this post is sure to generate some criticism. I am in no way anti-immigration, nor do I support government action restricting the rights of immigrants (legal or not) such as the law recently enacted in Arizona allowing police to demand proof of visa/citizenship from anyone they suspect of being in the United States illegally. My own father in fact is an immigrant to America. Demagogues and Dictators is at its core a security blog and the following is meant to bring your attention to a certain new technology that could have uses far beyond what the military is currently thinking.

For the past few years, the U.S. military has been developing what it is calling an "Active Denial System," or as Wired Magazine has dubbed it a "Pain Ray" (Aka the "Goodbye Weapon or the Vehicle Mounted Active Denial System (V-MAD)). When I first head of this device back in 2007, the military was testing to see if it could be used to non-lethally disperse crowds in Iraq. Essentially what this technology does is to concentrate microwaves across a limited distance. All organic tissue within a close proximity to the rays beam will experience an extremely hot sensation similar to opening a hot oven. From videos of the testing I have seen, the ray is very effective at getting people to instinctively move away from an area. The military claims that the weapon is entirely non-lethal and causes no permanent damage, although in one case a test subject had to be rushed to a hospital and treated for burns. As reported by Wired, this system has also recently been deployed for testing in Afghanistan

Now how does this relate to border security? Imagine a string of these microwave devices planted across the southern border of the United States all rotating in a random order such that only a minority of the border is hit with the ray at anyone time but ensuring that over a certain period of time the entire border is covered. This would negate the selective use of certain easy border crossing points as anyone crossing at any point along the border would risk being hit with the ray.

Human rights groups would obviously go crazy if the U.S. government were to even float the idea of such a system and I for one am not advocating it use either. However, I can imagine instances when such a system might have to be at least considered in emergency situations. Say for instance if terrorists were caught trying to smuggle nuclear material over the border. There would be in instant public outcry to seal the borders once and for all. You can't put up a huge fence overnight but you could deploy these Active Denial Systems in a matter of hours if you had a deployment plan already worked out. Furthermore, if the Mexican government were to fail, which according to the Defense Department is on par with the likelihood of the Pakistani government failing, the U.S government would need some way to temporarily stop a mass exodus of millions of people from Northern Mexico. In my opinion using this system would result in far fewer casualties than deploying the National Guard and the Minutemen down to the border armed with M-16's.

I know this is not a popular thought but we here at D&D believe that it is never wrong to think and we welcome any and all debate on this topic.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On Monday, the New York Times reported on a Defense Department memo claiming that under Afghanistan's hard terrain lays nearly a $1 trillion in mineral deposits. These minerals include large veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium a vital component of computer batteries. But the reality of this story is that it is more of a propaganda campaign or "information operation" than it is real news. Yes it is true that these minerals do exist in Afghanistan but it is by no means news. The U.S. Geological survey made the discovery back in 2007. However, the U.S. government is pushing the story now because the coalition here has been rocked by some particularly bad press here the past week (Ironically from the New York Times. This causes me to wonder if the Times is attempting to buy its way back into the good graces of the Embassy in Kabul.) The most damaging of this press was comments attributed to President Karzai about the West not being able to win in Afghanistan. This story is similar to ones that preceded the Iraq War when the Bush administration claimed that Iraq's oil wealth would pay for all the costs of reconstruction.

The reason why news of these vasts deposits is no need to celebrate is simple. The minerals are worthless unless you can actually get private companies to come in here and mine them. And with the security situation what it is that is not likely to happen any time soon. Afghanistan for instance would be a great country to run oil pipeline through, stretching from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and then on to China as well. However, despite a great deal of effort on the part of a U.S. company called Unocal they were never able to negotiate enough treaties with all the tribes and Taliban to agree not to blow up the lines or siphon oil from them. The one country with a mining contract in Afghanistan right now is China which now owns the largest copper mine here. They don't care about their people dying so it works out well for them.

The Taliban can't really mine anything so we don't really have to worry about them getting this revenue as they simply arent organized enough not to mention the lliterate enough. Furthermore, from this map you can tell that the majority of the deposits are located in Northern, Western and Central Afghanistan, all areas where the Taliban is not strong. The Taliban makes the majority of their money through taxes, which they are pretty good at collecting. They front farmers the money to buy opium poppy seed. They then take a percentage of the farmers cut when he sells his product to the local drug lord. They then also tax the drug lord for the right to move his product through areas they control. It is very mafia like here both in the government and the black market.

The other really bad thing about all these mineral deposits being discovered is that its really just one more thing for the government here to exploit for bribes. The Chinese got their copper mine for a song simply by paying a few million to the right ministers. The mine itself is worth billions.

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