Archive for October, 2012


Growing war in the Sahel sucks in France and the US

October 31, 2012

The Sahel region is a North African climatological transition area between the arid and barren Sahara Desert to the north and the more humid, wooded savannah regions to the south.  It is a cross-border region that traverses 10 separate African nations, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea (Senegal and Mauritania on the west, through Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, N Nigeria, Chad, and Sudan, to Ethiopia and Eritrea in the east).  While historically it has been the home to several rich kingdoms, in the modern period it has been a mostly undeveloped, periphery region in the world system.

Although the Sahel has been demarcated on the map and carved up among the 10 states mentioned above, very few of these states exercise any actual governmental authority or control across large swaths of the Sahel.  Such un-governed spaces are the natural havens for terrorists, criminal gangs, pirates and other non-state actors.   Dr. Francis Galgano published a detailed explication of ungoverned spaces a few years ago that is must-reading for anyone interested in the security and geostrategic implications of such regions.  In addition to specifying a number of critical un-governed spaces around the globe and creating a classification system for understanding them, Galgano noted specifically  that:

There are three principal threats to U.S., European, and regional security interests in Western Africa and the Sahel: 1) the emergence of radical, al Qaeda-linked extremist groups in Nigeria and Niger; 2) the existence of a thriving terror-financing network involved in the purchase and sale of diamonds in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo which fund Hezbollah and al-Qaeda; and 3) the migration of the al-Qaeda-linked Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) into the Sahel.

These concerns are proving prescient today.  Arms and warriors have flooded into the Sahel following the fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, further destabilizing the region.  In Mali, a coup earlier this year saw the military upend a nominally democratic regime.  However, the US and France are allying with the military government in a growing proxy war against al Qaeda and ultra-orthodox Islamist groups who have aligned with Touareg nationalist rebels in the un-governed north of that country.   For now, the Franco-American efforts are focusing on an Algerian-led initiative, but Western forces may yet participated directly – France has already moved special forces and surveillance drones into Mali, and has maintained a fairly extensive military presence in Africa throughout the post-colonial period.

All of this comes as the US African Command (AFRICOM) receives a new commander – Gen. David Rodriguez, who boasts extensive combat experience at every level of command, from Panama through both Iraq Wars and Afghanistan.   While most eyes are still on Syria, and with events still unfolding in Libya, watch for the Sahel, especially Mali, to be the next open front in the Terror Wars.


250 largest energy companies earned combined $7.4 trillion in revenue

October 30, 2012

Platt’s 250.

Draw your own conclusions.


Australia in the Asian Century: Gov’t releases new White Paper

October 30, 2012

The Australian Government has released an optimistic new White Paper assessing the ongoing economic rise of East Asia and the ability of Australia to benefit from it.  The paper almost reads like a product from the neo-liberal hey day of the early 1990s, extolling the virtues of free market and trade to enhance everything from economic growth to democratic reform to expansion of human rights.   At the same time, the paper downplays the security threats in the region.  Now, this may be well justified, as most of the nations in the region certainly prize economic prosperity over territorial gains.  However, the overlapping claims of sovereignty in the South China and East China seas cannot be overlooked and will remain possible flashpoints for conflict in both the near and medium terms.

Conflicting territorial claims in the East China (above) and South China (below) Seas

Christian Le Miere of the International Institute for Strategic Studies sees reason for optimism in the recent dispute over the Senkaku Islands – the fact that China deliberately sent fishing vessels rather than armed naval craft indicates to him that the preference is for a peaceful, negotiated settlement.  Counter to this analysis, however, is today’s report that China is refusing to join its South China Seas neighbors in negotiations for a multi-lateral “code of conduct” in the waters.   China does not want to be bound by a group treaty, preferring to negotiate separate deals with each individual nation.   In one-on-one negotiations, China can overawe each of her negotiating partners, something that is much harder to achieve when they band together.


The “water wars” thesis

October 29, 2012

Across the globe, there are numerous conflicts over the access to fresh water.  Many observers wonder whether any of these conflicts will break out into open warfare as populations continue to grow and clean, fresh water supplies grow more scarce.   The Pacific Institutes project gives reason for hope – although conflicts over water have been common throughout history, only once has such a conflict ever evolved into full scale war between armies.  The “water wars” thesis, then, appears to be incorrect.  Click through the image below to see their historic list of water conflicts.


Update: The wages of shale

October 26, 2012

IHS CERA has crunched the numbers and has determined that unconventional oil and gas support 1.7 million direct and indirect US jobs.

The most consistent and most productive US jobs program in the post-recession era has had little or nothing to do with the government.


The Strait of Hormuz

October 26, 2012

Last month, I listed the seven Keys that Lock Up the Energy World, a list of the chokepoints that potentially constrict and therefore control the flows of oil and natural gas from producing to consuming regions.  This post presents a look at the most critical of those five keys, the Strait of Hormuz, through which as much as 35% of the world’s crude oil and 20% of natural gas must pass in order to reach markets.

Earlier this month, the Financial Times published a detailed examination of the likelihood that Iran would try to close the straits.  Iran has threatened the straits for decades, but have usually had their threats dismissed as empty bluster – they need the straits as much or more as anyone else, as most of their imports and exports must also pass through them.  However, as sanctions bite down harder and harder and internal dissent grows, the notion of closing the straits might change from strategic folly to political necessity.

Would they be able to accomplish this feat?  It would require a remarkable David vs. Goliath victory, as the Iranian Navy’s swarm tactics would try to defeat two different US Navy Air Craft Carrier Task Forces currently in the area.  Raytheon has already supplied the Navy with a new system designed to counteract presumed Iranian tactics, and one would assume that Boeing’s new CHAMP missiles would be deployed very early any such battle, shutting down much of Iran’s capability and blinding the rest.


Boeing’s CHAMP missile kills all electronic activity

October 25, 2012

Boeing has successfully tested a new missile (the Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project – CHAMP) that shuts down all electronic activity within its kill radius (which is classified). When mass produced, this will completely change the air defense game.  There will be many eager customers for this weapon, but the US will no doubt limit availability it to a very select few buyers.