Archive for January, 2014


Analysis of the geopolitical struggle for control of the South China Sea

January 30, 2014

Dr. Christopher Yung has been examining the various tactics utilized by the numerous claimants to sovereignty over the South China Sea.  Last year, he published a short power point summary of his research to date.  Earlier this week, he presented more detailed findings at the East West Center in Washington, DC.  Dr. Yung has found that China has been by far the most aggressive claimant in the region, issuing hundreds of claims and utilizing multiple tactics and forums for presentation.  The other claimants are neither organized or nearly as aggressive in meeting this concerted Chinese diplomatic push.   Dr. Yung does not state as much, but China’s aggressiveness in making vast claims over the area may end up creating a virtual fait accompli in the eyes of the rest of the world.  China is attempting something akin to an anschluss – a reclamation of what they consider ancestral territory and a re-incorporation of said into China proper, at the expense of her weaker neighbors.  And the other world powers are responding not unlike they did in the 1930s.

Dr. Yung’s Map of Competing Territorial Claims in the South China Sea


Maldives rejects US military presence

January 29, 2014

Last June, it was reported that the US and the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Maldives were negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement that would have given the US a military foothold in the middle of strategic shipping lanes that connect the Persian Gulf with East Asia.

The new president of the Maldives has recently announced that his nation has discontinued these negotiations, in part due to pressure from regional power India.  Although India and the US are informally allied in the growing (but unclaimed and indistinct) anti-China coalition, India is intent on building regional dominance in the Indian Ocean.  As the US draws down its forces in the Persian Gulf region, India has the chance to become the de facto hegemon, at least of the Central and Western Indian Ocean.

international maritime route


Saudi options for filling strategic vacuum left by US disengagement #geopolitics

January 28, 2014

The energy rich Persian Gulf has long been held in balance between two local powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia.  The much more populous Iran has been held in check by the House of Saud through the deft geopolitical moves of the latter.  In particular, the Saudis have leveraged US energy dependence to create a large and decades long US military presence in the region which Iran has never had a chance of matching.  However, as the War on Terror shifts to a low intensity phase and the United States abandons the two major combat theaters (Iraq and Afghanistan), the Saudis are confronted with an Iran that has proxy forces in Iraq and Syria, is on the verge of having its nuclear ambitions legitimized, and left with a US ally in which it no longer has confidence.

Brandon Friedman examines the Saudi options in this analysis for Israel’s Dayan Center (link opens a pdf file) and concludes that it is possible that Saudi Arabia, too, will seek nuclear weapons and further destabilize the most important energy producing region in the world.

This is energy geopolitics at its most basic and most dangerous level.


Fracking (finally) begins in Europe

January 27, 2014

Europe’s first horizontally drilled and hydraulically fractured natural gas well has been drilled and tested in Poland, yielding a flow of 60,000 cubic feet per day.  This Polish well is the project of an Irish-based company, backed by major US investors George Soros and BlackRock, Inc.   They expect to expand drilling this summer and to quickly ramp up to “several million cubic feet of gas per day.”  Despite the successful efforts of anti-fracking activists in several European nations, the Shale Age has begun in Europe.  Poland is just the first crack in the wall; when Russia begins fracking its massive Bazhenov field, the rest of Europe will quickly follow suit.

1 Satellite images - dish2


Weekend links post: #China, #Syria, #Turkey, #Kurdistan

January 24, 2014

While reporting often makes the rise of China to global dominance seem inevitable, the Chinese elite might not be quite so confident themselves, as thousands of the richest and most powerful in that nation are busily expatriating their wealth to safe havens offshore.

In Syria, Assad has managed to cling to power by importing a mercenary force of foreign fighters, most of whom serve interests with their own designs on Syria.  This Washington Institute analysis indicates that Assad may have mortgaged his ability to lead his nation in the future by using these forces to maintain power in the present.

In Turkey, we see the results of Erdogan ‘s paranoid style.  He purged the military over fears of a coup; now, he is attempting to purge his former Islamist allies against the military, thinking they are more likely to stage a coup.  Turkey is more threatened by the Wars of the Kurdish Unification which are being waged on its very doorstep; this kind of internal division could open the door for another Kurdish front within Turkey itself.




Are renewable energy mandates bad for the economy . . . AND the environment

January 23, 2014

That is the analysis of the Belfer Center’s Robert Stavins, who argues that the combination of a carbon emissions cap and a renewable energy mandate are perversely counterproductive and will raise energy costs while at the same time having no impact on the amount carbon released.

Here is Stavin’s basic  argument:

  • Under the umbrella of the EU ETS, the cap will be achieved cost-effectively (at minimum aggregate cost) if the cap is binding, which it surely will be with the new 2030 targets.  (Cost effectiveness is achieved because the CO2 cap-and-trade mechanism – like a carbon tax – provides incentives for all sources to control at the same marginal abatement cost.)
  • A “complementary policy” under the cap, such as a renewables target, will either be irrelevant (if it is not binding) or, if it is binding, any additional emissions reductions achieved in the electricity sector under the complementary measure (the renewables program) will cause electricity generators to have additional allowances they do not need.  And they will not tear up those allowances, but will sell them to other sources, such as those in other sectors.  Hence, emissions in those other sectors will be greater than they otherwise would have been, completely neutralizing the emissions-reduction impact of the renewables policy.
  • So, in the presence of the over-arching EU ETS, the renewables target has no incremental impact on CO2 emissions.  On net, the emissions reduction due to the renewables policy is zero.  But the bad news does not stop there.
  • With more emissions reductions in the electricity sector and less in other sectors than under the cost-effective allocation of control achieved by the cap-and-trade system on its own, aggregate abatement costs are actually increased.  Marginal abatement costs are no longer equated, and the allocation of control responsibility is no longer cost-effective.  There is too much abatement in the electricity sector, and not enough in some other sector or sectors.  Costs are driven up.
  • Hence, nothing is being accomplished in terms of CO2 emissions with the renewables policy, and costs have been driven up!  Wait, there is more.
  • If some emissions reductions are being achieved by the binding renewables policy, then there is less demand overall for tradable allowances.  Since the supply of allowances has not changed, this means that allowance prices are inevitably suppressed; and low allowance prices mean less induced climate-friendly technological change over time.

Stavins calls the result “a perverse trifecta”:  No emissions reduction, increased costs, and a stagnation of innovation.

Read the whole post, including the many thoughtful points – both for and against the argument – in the comments.  Also see Michael Levi’s response at CFR.


Does China have its sights set on naval dominance?

January 21, 2014

Not in the near term, surely, but recent reports indicate that the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) has medium and long term goals that are well beyond regional command.   While the US Navy remains well ahead of China both quantitatively and qualitatively, the diffusion of technology is narrowing the qualitative gap, and the shrinking of US military budgets is narrowing it quantitatively.  Indeed, budget woes are also threatening the qualitative edge – basic R&D and the military industrial base itself are endangered, some claim.

The answer is going to have to be more burden sharing amongst our allies.  Japan is under direct threat from Chinese missile advances – at least 1000 missiles are currently targeted at Tokyo alone, and China plans on building 50,000 new missiles per year in the near future.   Another US ally on the other side of the world – Israel – is also under constant threat of missile attack and has developed systems and tactics to defeat them.  A three way relationship between the US, Israel and Japan combining the technological prowess of all three with the operational experience of Israel should be able to build a real counter to this threat without breaking the budget of any one nation.

In the near and medium terms, at least, if real missile defense can be mastered, then the most serious Chinese naval threat can be muted, and buy another few decades when the US Navy does not have to contest for global control of the seas.