Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Obama and Medvedev exchange caught on open microphone - YouTube

Obama and Medvedev exchange caught on open microphone - YouTube: ""

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The United States in Korea: A Strategy of Inertia | Stratfor

By George Friedman
After U.S. President Barack Obama visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone on March 25 during his trip to South Korea for a nuclear security summit, he made the obligatory presidential remarks warning North Korea against continued provocations. He also praised the strength of U.S.-South Korean relations and commended the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed there. Obama's visit itself is of little importance, but it is an opportunity to ask just what Washington's strategy is in Korea and how the countries around North Korea (China, Russia, South Korea and Japan) view the region. As always, any understanding of current strategy requires a consideration of the history of that strategy.

The Korean War and the U.S. Proto-Strategy

Korea became a key part of U.S. Cold War-era containment strategy almost by accident. Washington, having deployed forces in China during World War II and thus aware of the demographic and geographic problems of operating on the Asian mainland, envisioned a maritime strategy based on the island chains running from the Aleutians to Java. The Americans would use the islands and the 7th Fleet to contain both the Soviets and the Chinese on the mainland.
Korea conceptually lay outside this framework. The peninsula was not regarded by the United States as central to its strategy even after the victory of the communists in the Chinese civil war. After World War II, the Korean Peninsula, which had been occupied by the Japanese since the early 1900s, was divided into two zones. The North came under the control of communists, the South under the control of a pro-American regime. Soviet troops withdrew from the North in 1948 and U.S. troops pulled out of the South the following year, despite some calls to keep them in place to dissuade communist aggression. The actual U.S. policy toward an invasion of the South by the North is still being debated, but a U.S. intervention on the Korean Peninsula clearly violated Washington's core strategic principle of avoiding mainland operations and maintaining a strategic naval blockade.
U.S. strategy changed in 1950, when the North Koreans invaded the South, sparking the Korean War. Pyongyang's motives remain unclear, as do the roles of Moscow and Beijing in the decision. Obviously, Pyongyang wanted to unite the peninsula under communist control, and obviously, it did not carry out its invasion against Chinese and Russian wishes, but it appears all involved estimated the operation was within the capabilities of the North Korean army. Had the North Korean military faced only South Korean forces, they would have been right. They clearly miscalculated the American intent to intervene, though it is not clear that even the Americans understood their intent prior to the intervention. However, once the North Koreans moved south, President Harry Truman decided to intervene. His reasoning had less to do with Korea than with the impact of a communist military success on coalition partners elsewhere. The U.S. global strategy depended on Washington's ability to convince its partners that it would come to their aid if they were invaded. Strategic considerations aside, not intervening would have created a crisis of confidence, or so was the concern. Therefore, the United States intervened.
After serious difficulties, the United States managed to push the North Korean forces back into the North and pursue them almost to the Yalu River, which divides Korea and China. This forced a strategic decision on China. The Chinese were unclear on the American intent but did not underestimate American power. North Korea had represented a buffer between U.S. allies and northeastern China (and a similar buffer for the Soviets to protect their maritime territories). The Chinese intervened in the war, pushing the Americans back from the Yalu and suffering huge casualties in the process. The Americans regrouped, pushed back and a stalemate was achieved roughly along the former border and the current Demilitarized Zone. The truce was negotiated and the United States left forces in Korea, the successors of which President Obama addressed during his visit.

North Korea: The Weak, Fearsome Lunatic

The great mystery of the post-Cold War world is the survival of the North Korean regime. With a dynamic South, a non-Communist Russia and a China committed to good economic relations with the West, it would appear that the North Korean regime would have found it difficult to survive. This was compounded by severe economic problems (precipitated by the withdrawal of economic support from the Chinese and the Russians) and reported famines in the 1990s. But survive it did, and that survival is rooted in the geopolitics of the Cold War.
From the Chinese point of view, North Korea served the same function in the 1990s as it did in 1950: It was a buffer zone between the now economically powerful South Koreans (and the U.S. military) and Manchuria. The Russians were, as during the Korean War, interested in but not obsessed by the Korean situation, the more so as Russia shifted most of its attention west. The United States was concerned that a collapse in North Korea would trigger tensions with the Chinese and undermine the stability of its ally, South Korea. And the South Koreans were hesitant to undertake any actions that might trigger a response from North Korean artillery within range of Seoul, where a large portion of South Korea's population, government, industry and financial interests reside. In addition, they were concerned that a collapsing North would create a massive economic crisis in the South, having watched the difficulties of German integration and recognizing the even wider economic and social gap between the two Koreas.
In a real sense, no one outside of North Korea was interested in changing the borders of the Peninsula. The same calculations that had created the division in the first place and maintained it during and after the Korean War remained intact. Everyone either had a reason to want to maintain an independent North Korea (even with a communist regime) or were not eager risk a change in the status quo.
The most difficult question to answer is not how the United States viewed the potential destabilization of North Korea but rather its willingness to maintain a significant troop level in South Korea. The reason for intervening in the first place was murky. The U.S. military presence between 1953 and 1991 was intended to maintain the status quo during the Cold War. The willingness to remain beyond that is more complex.
Part of it simply had to do with inertia. Just as U.S. troops remain in Germany a generation after the end of the Cold War, it was easier not to reconsider U.S. strategy in Korea than to endure the internal stress of reconsidering it. Obviously, the United States did not want tensions between South Korea and North Korea, or to have the North Koreans misunderstand a withdrawal as an invitation to try another military move on the South, however unlikely. The Japanese saw Korean unification as problematic to their interests, since it could create a nearby industrial economic power of more than 70 million people and rekindle old rivalries. And North Korea, it would seem, actually welcomes the American presence, believing it limits South Korean adventurism. Between inertia and what we will call a proto-strategy, the United States remains.
With the loss of its Cold War patrons and the changing dynamic of the post-Cold War world, the North Koreans developed a survival strategy that Stratfor identified in the 1990s. The Koreans' intention was to appear -- simultaneously -- weak, fearsome and crazy. This was not an easy strategy to carry out, but they have carried it out well. First, they made certain that they were perceived to be always on the verge of internal collapse and thus not a direct threat to anyone but themselves. They went out of their way to emphasize their economic problems, particularly the famines in the 1990s. They wanted no one to think they were intent on being an aggressor unless provoked severely.
Second, they wanted to appear to be fearsome. This would at first blush seem to contradict the impression of weakness, but they managed it brilliantly by perpetually reminding the world that they were close to developing nuclear weapons and longer-range missiles. Recognizing that the Americans and Japanese had a reflexive obsession with nuclear weapons, Pyongyang constantly made it appear that they were capable of developing nuclear weapons but were not yet there. Not being there yet meant that no one had to do something about the weapons. Being close to developing them meant that it was dangerous to provoke them. Even North Korea's two nuclear tests have, intentionally or incidentally, appeared sub-par, leaving its neighbors able to doubt the technological prowess of the "Hermit Kingdom."
The final piece was to appear crazy, or crazy enough that when pressed, they would choose the suicide option of striking with a nuclear weapon, if they had one. This was critical because a rational actor possessing one or a few weapons would not think of striking its neighbors, since the U.S. counterstrike would annihilate the North Korean regime. The threat wouldn't work if North Korea was considered rational, but, if it was irrational, the North Korean deterrence strategy could work. It would force everyone to be ultra-cautious in dealing with North Korea, lest North Korea do something quite mad. South Korean and U.S. propaganda did more for North Korea's image of unpredictability than the North could have hoped.
North Korea, then, has spent more than two decades cultivating the image to the outside world of a nation on the verge of internal economic collapse (even while internally emphasizing its strength in the face of external threats). At the same time, the country has appeared to be on the verge of being a nuclear power -- one ruled by potential lunatics. The net result was that the major powers, particularly South Korea, the United States and Japan, went out of their way to avoid provoking the North. In addition, these three powers were prepared to bribe North Korea to stop undertaking nuclear and missile development. Several times, they bribed the North with money or food to stop building weapons, and each time the North took the money and then resumed their program, quite ostentatiously, so as to cause maximum notice and restore the vision of the weak, fearsome lunatic.
The North was so good at playing this game that it maneuvered itself into a position in which it sat as an equal with the United States, Japan, Russia, China and South Korea -- and it would frequently refuse to attend the six-party talks. The ability to maneuver itself into a position equal to these powers was North Korea's greatest achievement, and it had a tremendous effect on stabilizing the regime by reinforcing its legitimacy internally and its power externally. Underneath this was the fact that no one was all that eager to see North Korea collapse, particularly since it was crazy and might have nuclear weapons. North Korea created a superb strategy for regime preservation in a very hostile region -- or one that appeared hostile to the North Koreans.
Crucially for Pyongyang, North Korea was of tremendous use to one power: China. Even more than North Korea's role as a buffer state, its antics allowed China to emerge as mediator between the inscrutable Pyongyang and the frustrated United States. As China's economy grew, its political and military interests and reach expanded, leading to numerous tensions with the United States. But Beijing recognized that North Korea was a particular obsession of the United States because of its potential nuclear weapons and American sensitivity to weapons of mass destruction. Whenever North Korea did something outrageous, the United States would turn to China to address the problem. Having solved it, it was then inappropriate for Washington to press China on any other issue, at least for a while. Therefore, North Korea was a superb mechanism for the Chinese to deflect U.S. pressure on other issues.
For all of their occasional provocations, the North Koreans have been careful never to cross a line with conventional or nuclear power to compel a response from the South or the United States. Their ability to calibrate their provocations has been striking, even as their actions have escalated through nuclear tests to military action against South Korean ships and islands in the West Sea. Also striking is the manner in which those provocations have increased China's leverage with the United States.

The Difficulty of Extrication

At this point, it would be difficult for the United States to withdraw from South Korea. The North Korean nuclear threat fixes the situation in place, even for troops that aren't relevant to that threat. The troops could be withdrawn, but they won't be because the inertia of the situation makes it easier to leave them there than withdraw. As for the South Koreans, they simultaneously dislike the American presence and want it there, since it ensures U.S. military involvement in any crisis.
While the U.S. troop presence in Korea may not make the most sense in a global U.S. military strategy, it ironically seems to fit, at least for now, the interests of the Chinese, South Koreans and Japanese, and even in some sense the North Koreans. The United States, as the global power, therefore is locked into a deployment that does not match the regional requirements, requires endless explanation and is the source of frequent political complications. What we are left with is a U.S. strategy not based necessarily on the current situation but one tied to a historical legacy, left in place by inertia and held in place by the North Korean nuclear "threat."

Read more: The United States in Korea: A Strategy of Inertia | Stratfor 

UK security focus shifting to Yemen and Somalia

UK security focus shifting to Yemen and Somalia

Tuesday, 27 March 2012 9:18 AM

By Oliver Hotham
Britain's national security policy in the Middle East is moving away from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Britain's national security advisor has said.
Sir Kim Darroch told the joint committee on national security strategy that recent developments are shifting national security policy towards Yemen and Somalia.
Responding to a question about whether Afghanistan and Pakistan are still priorities given increased stability, Sir Kim told the committee: "The terrorist threat from Afghanistan is diminished. We don't want to tempt fate but it isn't what it once was". 
He continued: "Al-Qaida's power in Pakistan has diminished, and the threats from instability in Yemen and Somalia are growing."
Sir Kim said that the weakness of governments in Yemen and Somalia and their inability to contain Islamist militants tied to al-Qaida means that they are considered more of a threat to British national security than Afghanistan.
The recent uprising in Yemen which deposed unpopular president Ali Abdullah Saleh has diminished the ability of the central government to fight a militant Islamic insurgency. 
Similarly a large part of Somalia, considered one of the world's most failed states, is ruled by the Al-Shabaab militant group, which is believed to have links to al-Qaida.
Sir Kim cited military success by British forces as being responsible for the diminished threat from Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.
He also said that Britain's attention on the drug war in Colombia had reduced, saying it was not something he was focused on. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Assessing China's Strategy | STRATFOR

By George Friedman

Simply put, China has three core strategic interests.

Paramount among them is the maintenance of domestic security. Historically, when China involves itself in global trade, as it did in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the coastal region prospers, while the interior of China -- which begins about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the coast and runs about 1,600 kilometers to the west -- languishes. Roughly 80 percent of all Chinese citizens currently have household incomes lower than the average household income in Bolivia. Most of China's poor are located west of the richer coastal region. This disparity of wealth time and again has exposed tensions between the interests of the coast and those of the interior. After a failed rising in Shanghai in 1927, Mao Zedong exploited these tensions by undertaking the Long March into the interior, raising a peasant army and ultimately conquering the coastal region. He shut China off from the international trading system, leaving China more united and equal, but extremely poor.

The current government has sought a more wealth-friendly means of achieving stability: buying popular loyalty with mass employment. Plans for industrial expansion are implemented with little thought to markets or margins; instead, maximum employment is the driving goal. Private savings are harnessed to finance the industrial effort, leaving little domestic capital to purchase the output. China must export accordingly.

China's second strategic concern derives from the first. China's industrial base by design produces more than its domestic economy can consume, so China must export goods to the rest of the world while importing raw materials. The Chinese therefore must do everything possible to ensure international demand for their exports. This includes a range of activities, from investing money in the economies of consumer countries to establishing unfettered access to global sea-lanes.

The third strategic interest is in maintaining control over buffer states. The population of the historical Han Chinese heartland is clustered in the eastern third of the country, where ample precipitation distinguishes it from the much more dry and arid central and western thirds. China's physical security therefore depends on controlling the four non-Han Chinese buffer states that surround it: Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet. Securing these regions means China can insulate itself from Russia to the north, any attack from the western steppes, and any attack from India or Southeast Asia.

Controlling the buffer states provides China geographical barriers -- jungles, mountains, steppes and the Siberian wasteland -- that are difficult to surmount and creates a defense in depth that puts any attacker at a grave disadvantage.

Challenged Interests

Today, China faces challenges to all three of these interests.

The economic downturn in Europe and the United States, China's two main customers, has exposed Chinese exports to increased competition and decreased appetite. Meanwhile, China has been unable to appropriately increase domestic demand and guarantee access to global sea-lanes independent of what the U.S. Navy is willing to allow.

Those same economic stresses also challenge China domestically. The wealthier coast depends on trade that is now faltering, and the impoverished interior requires subsidies that are difficult to provide when economic growth is slowing substantially.

In addition, two of China's buffer regions are in flux. Elements within Tibet and Xinjiang adamantly resist Han Chinese occupation. China understands that the loss of these regions could pose severe threats to China's security, particularly if such losses would draw India north of the Himalayas or create a radical Islamic regime in Xinjiang.

The situation in Tibet is potentially the most troubling. Outright war between India and China -- anything beyond minor skirmishes -- is impossible so long as both are separated by the Himalayas. Neither side could logistically sustain large-scale multi-divisional warfare in that terrain. But China and India could threaten one another if they were to cross the Himalayas and establish a military presence on the either side of the mountain chain. For India, the threat would emerge if Chinese forces entered Pakistan in large numbers. For China, the threat would occur if large numbers of Indian troops entered Tibet.

China therefore constantly postures as if it were going to send large numbers of forces into Pakistan, but in the end, the Pakistanis have no interest in de facto Chinese occupation -- even if the occupation were directed against India. Likewise, the Chinese are not interested in undertaking security operations in Pakistan. The Indians have little interest in sending forces into Tibet in the event of a Tibetan revolution. For India, an independent Tibet without Chinese forces would be interesting, but a Tibet where the Indians would have to commit significant forces would not be. As much as the Tibetans represent a problem for China, the problem is manageable. Tibetan insurgents might receive some minimal encouragement and support from India, but not to a degree that would threaten Chinese control.

So long as the internal problems in Han China are manageable, so is Chinese domination of the buffer states, albeit with some effort and some damage to China's reputation abroad.

The key for China is maintaining interior stability. If this portion of Han China destabilizes, control of the buffers becomes impossible. Maintaining interior stability requires the transfer of resources, which in turn requires the continued robust growth of the Chinese coastal economy to generate the capital to transfer inland. Should exports stop flowing out and raw materials in, incomes in the interior would quickly fall to politically explosive levels. (China today is far from revolution, but social tensions are increasing, and China must use its security apparatus and the People's Liberation Army to control these tensions.)

Maintaining those flows is a considerable challenge. The very model of employment and market share over profitability misallocates scores of resources and breaks the normally self-regulating link between supply and demand. One of the more disruptive results is inflation, which alternatively raises the costs of subsidizing the interior while eroding China's competitiveness with other low-cost global exporters.

For the Chinese, this represents a strategic challenge, a challenge that can only be countered by increasing the profitability on Chinese economic activity. This is nearly impossible for low value-added producers. The solution is to begin manufacturing higher value-added products (fewer shoes, more cars), but this necessitates a different sort of work force, one with years more education and training than the average Chinese coastal inhabitant, much less someone from the interior. It also requires direct competition with the well-established economies of Japan, Germany and the United States. This is the strategic battleground that China must attack if it is to maintain its stability.

A Military Component

Besides the issues with its economic model, China also faces a primarily military problem. China depends on the high seas to survive. The configuration of the South China Sea and the East China Sea render China relatively easy to blockade. The East China Sea is enclosed on a line from Korea to Japan to Taiwan, with a string of islands between Japan and Taiwan. The South China Sea is even more enclosed on a line from Taiwan to the Philippines, and from Indonesia to Singapore. Beijing's single greatest strategic concern is that the United States would impose a blockade on China, not by positioning its 7th Fleet inside the two island barriers but outside them. From there, the United States could compel China to send its naval forces far away from the mainland to force an opening -- and encounter U.S. warships -- and still be able to close off China's exits.

That China does not have a navy capable of challenging the United States compounds the problem. China is still in the process of completing its first aircraft carrier; indeed, its navy is insufficient in size and quality to challenge the United States. But naval hardware is not China's greatest challenge. The United States commissioned its first aircraft carrier in 1922 and has been refining both carrier aviation and battle group tactics ever since. Developing admirals and staffs capable of commanding carrier battle groups takes generations. Since the Chinese have never had a carrier battle group in the first place, they have never had an admiral commanding a carrier battle group.

China understands this problem and has chosen a different strategy to deter a U.S. naval blockade: anti-ship missiles capable of engaging and perhaps penetrating U.S. carrier defensive systems, along with a substantial submarine presence. The United States has no desire to engage the Chinese at all, but were this to change, the Chinese response would be fraught with difficulty.

While China has a robust land-based missile system, a land-based missile system is inherently vulnerable to strikes by cruise missiles, aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles currently in development and other types of attack. China's ability to fight a sustained battle is limited. Moreover, a missile strategy works only with an effective reconnaissance capability. You cannot destroy a ship if you do not know where it is. This in turn necessitates space-based systems able to identify U.S. ships and a tightly integrated fire-control system. That raises the question of whether the United States has an anti-satellite capability. We would assume that it does, and if the United States used it, it would leave China blind.

China is therefore supplementing this strategy by acquiring port access in countries in the Indian Ocean and outside the South China Sea box. Beijing has plans to build ports in Myanmar, which is flirting with ending its international isolation, and Pakistan. Beijing already has financed and developed port access to Gwadar in Pakistan, Colombo and Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Chittagong in Bangladesh, and it has hopes for a deepwater port at Sittwe, Myanmar. In order for this strategy to work, China needs transportation infrastructure linking China to the ports. This means extensive rail and road systems. The difficulty of building this in Myanmar, for example, should not be underestimated.

But more important, China needs to maintain political relationships that will allow it to access the ports. Pakistan and Myanmar, for example, have a degree of instability, and China cannot assume that cooperative governments will always be in place in such countries. In Myanmar's case, recent political openings could result in Naypyidaw's falling out of China's sphere of influence. Building a port and roads and finding that a coup or an election has created an anti-Chinese government is a possibility. Given that this is one of China's fundamental strategic interests, Beijing cannot simply assume that building a port will give it unrestricted access to the port. Add to this that roads and rail lines are easily sabotaged by guerrilla forces or destroyed by air or missile attacks.

In order for the ports on the Indian Ocean to prove useful, Beijing must be confident in its ability to control the political situation in the host country for a long time. That sort of extended control can only be guaranteed by having overwhelming power available to force access to the ports and the transportation system. It is important to bear in mind that since the Communists took power, China has undertaken offensive military operations infrequently -- and to undesirable results. Its invasion of Tibet was successful, but it was met with minimal effective resistance. Its intervention in Korea did achieve a stalemate but at horrendous cost to the Chinese, who endured the losses but became very cautious in the future. In 1979, China attacked Vietnam but suffered a significant defeat. China has managed to project an image of itself as a competent military force, but in reality it has had little experience in force projection, and that experience has not been pleasant.

Internal Security vs. Power Projection

The reason for this inexperience stems from internal security. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is primarily configured as a domestic security force -- a necessity because of China's history of internal tensions. It is not a question of whether China is currently experiencing such tensions; it is a question of possibility. Prudent strategic planning requires building forces to deal with worst-case situations. Having been designed for internal security, the PLA is doctrinally and logistically disinclined toward offensive operations. Using a force trained for security as a force for offensive operations leads either to defeat or very painful stalemates. And given the size of China's potential internal issues and the challenge of occupying a country like Myanmar, let alone Pakistan, building a secondary force of sufficient capability might not outstrip China's available manpower but would certainly outstrip its command and logistical capabilities. The PLA was built to control China, not to project power outward, and strategies built around the potential need for power projection are risky at best.

It should be noted that since the 1980s the Chinese have been attempting to transfer internal security responsibilities to the People's Armed Police, the border forces and other internal security forces that have been expanded and trained to deal with social instability. But despite this restructuring, there remain enormous limitations on China's ability to project military power on a scale sufficient to challenge the United States directly.

There is a disjuncture between the perception of China as a regional power and the reality. China can control its interior, but its ability to control its neighbors through military force is limited. Indeed, the fear of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is unfounded. It cannot mount an amphibious assault at that distance, let alone sustain extended combat logistically. One option China does have is surrogate guerrilla warfare in places like the Philippines or Indonesia. The problem with such warfare is that China needs to open sea-lanes, and guerrillas -- even guerrillas armed with anti-ship missiles or mines -- can at best close them.

Political Solution

China therefore faces a significant strategic problem. China must base its national security strategy on what the United States is capable of doing, not on what Beijing seems to want at the moment. China cannot counter the United States at sea, and its strategy of building ports in the Indian Ocean suffers from the fact that its costs are huge and the political conditions for access uncertain. The demands of creating a force capable of guaranteeing access runs counter to the security requirements inside China itself.

As long as the United States is the world's dominant naval power, China's strategy must be the political neutralization of the United States. But Beijing must make certain that Washington does not feel so pressured that it chooses blockade as an option. Therefore, China must present itself as an essential part of U.S. economic life. But the United States does not necessarily see China's economic activity as beneficial, and it is unclear whether China can maintain its unique position with the United States indefinitely. Other, cheaper alternatives are available. China's official rhetoric and hard-line stances, designed to generate nationalist support inside the country, might be useful politically, but they strain relations with the United States. They do not strain relations to the point of risking military conflict, but given China's weakness, any strain is dangerous. The Chinese feel they know how to walk the line between rhetoric and real danger with the United States. It is still a delicate balance.

There is a perception that China is a rising regional and even global power. It may be rising, but it is still far from solving its fundamental strategic problems and further yet from challenging the United States. The tensions within China's strategy are certainly debilitating, if not fatal. All of its options have serious weaknesses. China's real strategy must be to avoid having to make risky strategic choices. China has been fortunate for the past 30 years being able to avoid such decisions, but Beijing utterly lacks the tools required to reshape that environment. Considering how much of China's world is in play right now -- Sudanese energy disputes and Myanmar's political experimentation leap to mind -- this is essentially a policy of blind hope.