Frozen competition: the future of the Arctic

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin arrived unannounced in Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost city and located in the Norwegian province of Svalbard in the Arctic Circle.  The problem with that is Mr. Rogozin (along with many other Russian officials and businessmen) has been sanctioned by the EU, US and Norway since 2014, when Russia decided to annex Crimea. These sanctions bar visits to these countries and forbid use of Western banks. But he did it anyway:

But Rogozin wasn’t going merely to troll the Norwegians (although he accomplished that too), rather he was on his way to visit Russia’s new North Pole Station. Rogozin heads the new Russian government commission overseeing projects in the Arctic. And they plan on spending upwards of $4 billion developing Russian energy and mineral resources between now and 2020.

Should we be panicking? Panic is a strong word, but perhaps suspicious is more appropriate.  When I did my undergrad, one of my professors made a comment about the U.S.’s geopolitical standing in the world after World War II, when we came out on top and forged the new global order: “Today there are few countries that make us dance around like a three-year-old without a bathroom on a bus. One of those countries happens to be Russia.”

The Arctic, or “High North,” is considered to be one of the last “great frontiers” for human development, particularly in the realm of mineral and energy extraction (i.e. oil and natural gas).  It is also a potential shipping route that can be a shortcut between Asian and European markets. In any case, because of global warming, a melting Arctic presents many strategic issues and implications which stem from economic opportunities.

I can try to get into explaining this map, but to be honest, it's sort of confusing. But all the red and pink shades means there's fossil fuels that are potentially extractable. But the ice has to melt first.

I can try to get into explaining this map, but to be honest, it’s sort of confusing. But all the red and pink shades means there’s fossil fuels that are potentially extractable. But the ice has to melt first.

Developing offshore oil and natural gas fields here is just one example of the multidimensional challenge the Arctic presents.  The U.S., Canada, Norway, Russia will all want a piece of the pie. And they will want to defend that piece of their pie.  Before the recent confrontation over Ukraine and Crimea grabbed headlines, the Russian government announced in September 2013 that they would be rebuilding a naval base and an airbase in the Arctic and begin patrols there.  The last time Russia had a functional military base in the Arctic was during the Cold War.  This would give Russia the ability to put air power over most of the Arctic, and possibly deny Arctic countries their right to their respective territories. In 2007, they trolled the world and planted the Russian Tricolor at the bottom of the ocean at the North Pole, officially staking their claim and making the case that Russia’s continental shelf extends well into the Arctic. Estimates vary, but the consensus is that the Arctic carries roughly 1/5 of the world’s undiscovered hydrocarbons (~90 billion barrels of oil and ~1.76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas), and you can be sure the Russians will want to access some, if not all, of it.

Depending on where you’re sailing from, shipping goods via the Arctic instead of through the Suez and Panama Canals can cut the travel time back significantly. Currently there are 3 sea routes in the Arctic.  The Northwest Passage, the Transpolar Passage, and the Northern Sea Route.  These routes are not consistently open to maritime traffic, but even seasonally they can provide economic benefits.  The Transpolar Passage is only navigable with ice-breakers or submarines, while the other two are only navigable in the summer – and inconsistently at that.  When they become economically significant in comparison to the present alternatives is anybody’s guess.

It is difficult for many Americans to grasp since Alaska is geographically separated from the rest of the U.S., but we are indeed an Arctic nation. U.S. interests in the Arctic are also partially a legacy of World War II. For the last seven decades the United States Navy has underwritten the international free trade system by enforcing freedom of navigation and safety of shipping lanes. Remember, 90% of the world’s trade travels by water. As a new body of water slowly becomes more navigable, will the U.S. take it upon itself to project power there to enforce international norms? Well, in order to project power in the Arctic we will have to get there first, and you can’t escort ships without icebreakers (Russia has more than two-dozen, and the U.S. only has one). We must also ensure that we can operate well with countries who have territorial claims to the Arctic, not just militarily, but also for a wide variety of missions such as search-and-rescue (some of which are allies like Canada, Norway and Denmark). A role for NATO in the Arctic must also be considered, as many countries in the High North are also NATO allies, and how can NATO get involved without antagonizing Russia?

Does China get a seat at the table in this Arctic conversation, even though they’re not geographically in the Arctic? After all, they have investments in Iceland and Greenland, and are pouring money into just about every country you can think of. What if they offer to help fund Arctic coastal infrastructure, ports, airfields, and sea routes? And if China is trying to vie for some influence in the Arctic, you could be sure that Japan will try to do the same. Other shipping nations like Singapore and Indonesia will probably want their voices heard too. Significant obstacles remain, but the more the ice melts, and stays melted, the more important the Arctic will become on the geopolitical chessboard. For a more in-depth analysis of the challenges a thawing Arctic presents, check out this guide/explainer from the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

 

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Today there is no longer such a thing as strategy, there is only [ISIS] management.

President Obama's prime-time address to the nation on September 10th got mixed reviews, mainly because while he articulated a course of action to deal with the ISIS, there are many questions still left unanswered.

President Obama’s prime-time address to the nation on September 10th got mixed reviews, mainly because while he articulated a course of action to deal with the ISIS, there are still many questions that need answering.

–Peter Kouretsos–  President Obama repeatedly and definitively states that there will not be US combat troops fighting the ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says they may become necessary if the situation ever warranted it.

I have only been alive for 23 years, but for these past 23 years (4 presidential administrations), we have been bombing Iraq more or less continuously:

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The reality is that air power by itself is not enough to defeat insurgents.  Bombing runs can give our forces control of the battlefield, but a JDAM cannot solve the political problems that lead people to take up arms against a government they see as illegitimate. Bombs can clear territory, but bombs cannot hold territory. To make matters more complicated, consider your options if you begin to see groups like the ISIS moving away from sparsely populated areas and into cities. American commanders are watching as the ISIS has begun using the kind of tactics used by the Hamas in Gaza: avoiding detection by dispersing themselves and their weapons and hiding them among the civilian population. A ground force is necessary.

But three examples of recent Middle Eastern interventions are also pretty telling, even with the aid of ground forces:

  • After 9/11 the Afghan Northern Alliance successfully ousted the Taliban and set up a new government with our help from the air.  We controlled the airspace, dropped thousands of tons of bombs, and fielded a U.S. force that, at its max totaled 100,000 troops and hundreds of thousands of U.S.-trained Afghans.  Some 13 years later the Taliban is still a threat to a government teetering on default and collapse. Taliban frequently boast “NATO has all the watches,” referencing our superior arms and technology, “but we have all the time.” And are they wrong?
  • Following a heavy air campaign in 2003, a U.S. ground force made quick work of Iraq’s military.  But waiting for us around the bend was an anti-American insurgency and a blown lid on a pot of sectarian conflict that was simmering for decades.  The surge “worked” and the counterinsurgency campaign “worked,” but pundits today forget those things were a tactical objective linked to a strategic end; it gave the new Iraqi government an opportunity to start governing and control the country. But the Maliki government squandered this opportunity, and instead used the surge to consolidate Shia influence and begin purging dissidents, mainly Sunnis.  So after the US combat troops left, the government began to dissolve, as did the Iraqi Army, trained and equipped by the US, when the ISIS began launching their attacks.  To make matters worse, many of the ISIS’s military leadership and regional governors are former generals and ministers who served in Saddam Hussein’s military and Ba’ath Party.  Pundits who claim that the reason why ISIS is in Iraq now because we pulled out in 2011 are only partially correct; they must also acknowledge that the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 helped create the conditions under which the insurgency grew.
As if insurgents weren't bad enough, there are also ginger insurgents.  Saddam Hussein's former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, is now an ISIS field commander.

As if insurgents weren’t bad enough, there are also ginger insurgents. Saddam Hussein’s former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, is now an ISIS field commander.

  • The most recent example here is, of course, Libya, where a NATO-led air campaign (no Western ground forces, unless you’re including small Special Operations forces) aided rebels against the Gaddafi government in 2011.  But as in Iraq, while the initial tactical success was hailed as a victory, the security situation eroded, as the militias we supported with our airstrikes began fighting among themselves and the interim government in what can be described now as a low-intensity civil war. Today Libya is a failed state, a geographical expression at best.

Now, what does all this tell us about the fight against the ISIS in 2014?

The strategy outlined by President Obama on September 10th is to provide air support and training to the Iraqi army, the Shiite militias, and the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, to drive the ISIS out of Iraqi territory; while training select groups of Syrian rebels and supporting them to defeat the ISIS in Syria (airstrikes have not been ruled out to accomplish this in Syria either). Assuming that this plan succeeds – and the ISIS is degraded and defeated without US troops having to engage in heavy combat in Iraq and Syria – then what?

Iraq, under intense U.S. pressure, formed a new unity government, promising the inclusiveness and openness that was denied to half of the country under the Maliki government. But what if it turns out to be the same movie with a different title, and the sectarian divisions don’t go away as easily as everyone would like to? And in Syria, if the ISIS is destroyed, there’s still a civil war with the Assad regime to be had; will we continue supporting those rebels against Assad?

I don’t think the question here is if the US and its coalition will be able to take on the ISIS. I think the real question here is if we have the capability and the capacity to leave behind structures that ensure the ISIS or something like it doesn’t come back. Any action undertaken by the U.S. needs to be tied to realistic national goals and determine what resources are necessary to achieve those aims. Engaging Sunnis and convincing them that the Shia militias sent to “liberate” your city are better than ISIS will be a tall order; even during the famously referenced Anbar Awakening, where we convinced Sunnis in western Iraq to switch sides and help us defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, it took thousands of U.S. troops on the streets and millions of dollars in bribes to local leaders ($16 million a month) to make a difference.

But 10 years and $1 trillion later, how far have we come? According to the President, the plan for combating the ISIS could follow the models for dealing with the insurgencies in Yemen and Somalia; failing states where U.S. and U.S.-backed counter-terrorist forces utilize airstrikes and clandestine Special Forces raids to manage groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Al Shabaab. This could be the future of Iraq and Syria for many years.

To rephrase the words of Bob McNamara, JFK’s Secretary of Defense, who after the Cuban Missile Crisis lamented the reality that we would face perpetual crisis, “Today there is no longer such a thing as strategy, there is only [ISIS] management.”  It’s worth entertaining the thought that perhaps not all problems are meant to be “solved,” at least not all of them by us; the only thing we can do on our end is try to manage them.

Entschuldigung: The CIA’s Trip-up, and a Story that Could Shed Some Light on it

There's nothing more sensitive than spying on a friendly country. But let's have some perspective.

There’s nothing more sensitive than spying on a friendly country. But let’s give this some perspective.

A few years ago I interviewed one of our veterans who served in Japan shortly after the Korean War.  They worked and trained alongside the Japanese SDF.  The young officer was in frequent planning meetings with higher ranking officers

After one meeting, when the others began filing out, one of his superiors asked him “Why are we here, in Japan?

The young officer replied “We are here to protect American interests and serve as a deterrent to the North Koreans and the Chinese and keep an eye on them.”

To that he replied “No, son. We’re here to keep an eye on the Japanese.

 

Remember that when considering the latest CIA spy revelations coming out of Germany.

#ThingsIkeNeverSaid: The D-Day Letter Eisenhower Never Had to Read Out Loud

 

Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day. "Full victory-nothing less" of the 101st Airborne Division in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day: “Full victory-nothing less.” to the 101st Airborne Division in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Peter Kouretsos — Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy that helped lead to the defeat of Nazi Germany.  “D-Day” as it is called now, was the largest amphibious military assault.  Ever.  Over 4,000 Allied soldiers died on the first day (To put that into perspective, the number of coalition soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001 totaled 3444 and 4,804 since 2003 in Iraq).  Many recall the letter General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, wrote to each soldier participating in the invasion:

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And if you don’t feel like reading, here’s a recording of it:

I know. After an address like that, I’d be ready to go anywhere Ike told me to! But did you know that Eisenhower also wrote a note accepting blame for the possible failure of the D-Day landing? He never had to read it to the press, but he wrote it to himself the day before the invasion and kept it in his wallet just in case. As I’ve mentioned before, history has a way of sometimes taking on an air of inevitability; we have a tendency to look at past events and subconsciously accept that “this is the only way it could have happened.” Obama said the same thing today, “We say it now as if it couldn’t be any other way. But in the annals of history, the world had never seen anything like it.

And D-Day, one of the most celebrated military operations in world history that’s been lauded as tactical genius, the turning point in the War, the beginning of the end for the Nazis, could have gone down as one of the greatest military disasters in history. Read the letter for yourself:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the Air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the Air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

Ike’s letter reveals that war planning, despite the most carefully crafted strategy, is still a precarious affair and carries with it a profound responsibility.  The invasion could have been a disaster, as the article I linked to above laid out. Ike could have blamed the weather.  Ike could have blamed the Generals under his command, tasked with carrying out the invasion: Bradley, Leigh-Mallory, Tedder, Dempsey, Ramsay or Monty.  Ike could have blamed the massive deception operations for not selling the fake invasion location better.  Instead, Ike blamed himself.

Ike scratched out “This particular operation” and instead wrote “My decision to attack.”  He acknowledged how much the outcome of the operation and the lives of those men he was sending out to execute the attack weighed on him. It’s one thing for an authority figure to sign a typewritten letter and quite another to write their own declaration of responsibility – before the outcome. I’ve only been alive for a little over two decades, but I’ve seen a lot of people blame others for failures that happened under their watch.  Ike’s letter revealed his character, and he represents a measure by which we ought to judge both past and future leadership.

The Forgotten Games During the “Forgotten War”: The 1952 Pyuktong Inter Camp Olympics

We all know the North Koreans have a thing for the theatrics.  Heated rhetoric comes from them all the time.  In fact, just the other day, North Korean state media referred to Obama as a “monkey” and the South Korean President as an “old prostitute.”  This rhetoric, coupled with the long history of escapades, like the satellite launch in 2012, firing rockets into the sea and thereby restarting Caligula’s ancient war with Poseidon, and constant threats of nuclear testing, has long been used by the North Korean leaders to bolster their regime internally. Defying the great enemy that is the West, despite decades of international isolation and hardship is a North Korean pastime.  But this is nothing new; North Korea and even their northern neighbors, the People’s Republic of China (China/PRC) have a long history of capitalizing on issues and events to use as propaganda to bolster their governments.

The camp teams battled it out in track-and-field events, soccer, boxing, and wrestling, as well as American football, and softball.

During the Cold War, both North Korea and China made great efforts to convey that they were great countries to live in, perhaps even a paradise.  During the Korean War in particular, they tried to deflect accusations from the international community that their U.N. prisoners were being mistreated.  Most people remember that the first Olympic Games held on the Korean peninsula were in Seoul, in the summer of 1988, but they are mistaken. After the official 1952 Summer Olympics were held in Helsinki, Finland in July, North Korea and the PRC created an alternative Olympic Games at a North Korean POW camp in Pyuktong.  Prison camps near the Yalu River in North Korea competed in teams made up of men from the United States, Britain, South Korea, Turkey, France, the Philippines, and the Netherlands. The camp teams battled it out in track-and-field events, soccer, boxing, and wrestling, as well as American football, and softball, all during the harsh North Korean winter. It would have many names, but it would be known as the Inter Camp Olympics. The Korean War has been dubbed the “Forgotten War,” but even those that remember it are not aware of this bizarre event.  This is an obscure, yet fascinating event during the Korean War with which there is so little information.

Many studies of POWs during the Korean War include the infamous Clarence Adams, an African American POW from Memphis, Tennessee.  He was one of the twenty-one Americans who decided to start a new life and live in the PRC, refusing repatriation after the armistice (yes, we’re still technically at war with North Korea).(1)  His motives and experiences in China are often the most cited, but no one to my knowledge has ever cited his participation in the POW Olympics.  He was in Camp 5, one of the several camps that participated in the games.  We are aware of the death marches, the torture, and the poor treatment of POWs committed by the North Koreans in the early years of the war; Adams recalled how he weighed roughly 100 pounds.  However, he observed that treatment improved after the Chinese took over their camp:

The Chinese took over Camp 5 in the spring of 1951 and introduced what they called their “lenient policy.” They lined us all up and told us that although they were not bound by the Geneva Convention, they had their own policy of leniency that would greatly improve our lives in the camp…and gradually it did. (2)

Adams cited the racial discrimination he and fellow African Americans faced as a major reason for staying on in a new socialist country. He ended up returning to the U.S., fleeing China during the Cultural Revolution.

The treatment of POWs in the North somewhat improved when the peace talks at Panmunjom started, when the Chinese adopted their “lenient policy.” From his account we learn that the Chinese were fairly reasonable in providing POWs with some level of comfort and normalcy, but it is unclear as to whether this is genuine, given that their new policy started right around the peace talks. Adams records that the Chinese:

…agreed to everything I asked for.  After a couple of months, they brought in bats and baseballs, footballs, books, boxing gloves, parallel bars…We set up cooking and sanitation committees. We exercised every day. And the guys began to get stronger.  We even got some medicine that we gave to the prisoners who were medics to administer… (3)

Along with beginning to see conditions improving in the camp, Adams is the only American POW that I found that definitively recorded the Inter Camp Olympics in a printed memoir:

A welcome interlude occurred in our daily lives with the Inter Camp P.O.W. Olympics, held in November 15-27, 1952, in Pyuktong, just outside of Camp 5. This was a time of heated negotiations, and the Chinese obviously hoped to gain positive worldwide publicity for hosting these games.  Some prisoners refused to participate, but others…welcomed this diversion from the tedium of their daily lives, as well as the chance to talk to their buddies from other camps. (4)

Adams observed that several hundred POWs participated and competed in many sports, including “football, baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, track and field, soccer, gymnastics, and of course boxing, where I fought as a lightweight.”  We learn earlier in his memoir that he was an avid boxer. He must have been thrilled to be able to box competitively again, perhaps a reason why he never viewed the event in a negative light.  From his recollection we learn that the Chinese put on quite a show, and tried to make it as grandiose and organized as possible: “We had our own photographers, announcers, and even reporters who put out a newspaper called the “Olympic Roundup” after each day’s events…It was great fun and made us forget about where we were for at least a few days.” (5)

Adams mentioned a newspaper called “Olympic Roundup” that was printed at the camp during the games, which brought me to a treasure of a website that I intend to continue analyzing in the future.   Its contents include a brochure/pamphlet that was produced, courtesy of the People’s Republic of China, shortly after the Inter Camp Olympics; the extent to which it was distributed is unknown, but its contents were scanned and copied onto this website, courtesy of a group of British Korean War veterans.(6) The pamphlet includes a wealth of information, ranging from pictures of the sporting events and ceremonies, and every piece of information is straight from “Olympic Roundup,” which was written by the POWs covering the games.  In the records of participants it lists Clarence Adams as one of the 22 competitors (with their serial numbers) in the boxing tournament. Pictures from the newspaper are also shown, and some the clippings described the significance of the event:

…I can say that in all the history of prisoner-of-war life, this sort of thing never happened before…it was the most colorful and gala event to come about during our stay here in Korea under the guidance of our captors…I am certain that no one in his sane mind will ever say that prisoners of war here are not the best cared for in the whole world today.  May the peoples all the world over be informed of that First Inter-Camp Olympics Meet, 1952…

Another one goes further: “…It’s a pity, that the same atmosphere doesn’t prevail over all the world, because if so then how pleasant and peaceful life would be for us all.”  The purpose of this pamphlet, like any pamphlet, was for distribution.  However, discerning the audience is difficult; Since this is one of the only surviving records of such a piece, it is possible that it was distributed as a souvenir for POWs to take back home. It is also not clear if it was distributed in China, or if they were flown and dropped over U.N. territory to convince Western troops how much fun their POW friends were having while they were freezing in a foxhole.

The irony in all of this of course is that everyone who participated in this event, from those you see smiling and competing with each other in sports uniforms (see pictures at the end), to those that wrote and recorded the event in the newspaper, were captives. The writing in the newspapers that were meant for distribution is full of praise, to convince participants that maybe the Communist governments were not so bad after all.(7)  The general consensus is that the event was used as a propaganda ploy, and participants had to have been well aware of this.  In a paper written to describe life in POW camps for Marines during the War, Colonel James Angus MacDonald mentions the Games in a few pages (out of several hundred). In it he quotes an Air Force pilot who described a Major Thomas D. Harrison, who I was able to cross-reference with the pamphlet website and confirm that he played basketball as a participant in the Olympics:

…he attended  an athletic meet in Pyoktong. While there, his skill as an athlete helped restore the prestige of the officers torn down by the enemy’s propaganda.  In addition he defied the guards by circulating among the enlisted men and pointing out lies contained in the enemy propaganda designed to slander this country…at the same time he collected the names of many prisoners held in isolated places whom it was suspected that the enemy might attempt to hold after the end of the war. (8)

It’s no surprise that we learned about the considerable efforts made by the Chinese to indoctrinate younger enlisted men.(9)  After fielding several interviews with which he provides no transcript, Colonel MacDonald also described the discernment process that other POW Camps went through before finally deciding to participate in these Olympics.  He concluded that normally they would have withdrew their participation, due to the potential the event had for being used as propaganda, but “…in the end, the possibility for making contact with other camps and exchanging vital information proved the deciding factor.”(10)  This corroborates with Clarence Adam’s testimony earlier when he mentioned that it was a way for prisoners at other camps to see their buddies.

In November 1952, in the region of Pyoktong in North Korea, hundreds of United Nations prisoners captured during two years of fighting were brought together to compete in the “Inter Camp Olympics.”  But who could blame prisoners for participating in such an event? Regardless if the whole thing was used for propaganda, in a way, everyone got what they wanted.  Furthermore, it wouldn’t exactly be untrue if a majority of the captives enjoyed it. The fact that they were able to compete in physically strenuous events suggests that they were indeed treated at least with some level of nourishment.  The extent to which the Communists were able to convert prisoners to their cause was only limited to the likes of Clarence Adams, who were halfway there since they had their grievances about their home country prior to serving as an Allied combatant.  The Chinese and North Koreans could say that they were treating the captives well, and the POWs got a chance to see their comrades and live in better conditions for 2 weeks. For the POWs, this was a valuable diversion to the morale-draining prisoner life.  In short, it was a fantasy for both parties involved.

Two years ago was not only the year of the 2012 Summer Olympics at London; that November also marked the 60th anniversary of these Inter Camp Olympics. And although the Korean War is a dim memory in much of the world today, perhaps a detailed account of  a Communist propaganda exercise, their answer to the real Olympics Games and indeed, one of the strangest events ever to have occurred during wartime, will spark a renewed interest in the conflict whose consequences reverberate on the Peninsula and beyond to this day.

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Pictures obtained from various pages of <http://www.kmike.com/POW_Olympics/pow/index.htm&gt;

(1)  Clarence Adams. An American Dream: The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China. Ed. Della Adams and Lewis H. Carlson. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2007. Print.

Their defection was regarded as a major public relations victory for the Communists, but Adams never considered himself a turncoat. We can sympathize with him in the sense that he knew that there would be no life for him back in the States; he was a poor black man who would inevitably return to the 1950s South. Eventually he abandoned his life in China and returned to the U.S.

(2)  Ibid., 51.

(3) Ibid., 56. We must take Adams words here with some level of suspicion.  We learn in his memoir that the found Chinese re-education classes given at his camp compelling, and he was a regular contributor to their propaganda newspaper. As a representative of the camp, perhaps the Chinese thought that if they worked with Adams and gave him some authority he would be swayed to come to their side.  Although he never says this outright, his defection points to this being a possibility.

(4)  Ibid., 62.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Michael White. “Index to 1952 POW Olympics.” Index to 1952 POW Olympics. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.kmike.com/POW_Olympics/pow/index.htm&gt;

(7) Culturally, although they abandoned some of their old ways in favor of Communism, the Confucian ideology stresses to never express your true intentions and emotions outright, and if you must, to do it ever so subtly.

(8) James A.MacDonald, Jr. The Problems of U.S. Marine Corps Prisoners of War in Korea. Thesis. History And Museum Division Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps Washington, D.C., 1962, 195. <http://www.koreanwar2.org/kwp2/usmckorea/reference/usmcpowkorea.pdf&gt;

(9) Historical records show that these subversive activities were not only done by the Chinese themselves, but by Western prisoners like Clarence Adams who were labeled as “Progressives” and were sympathetic to the criticisms of their own country.

(10) MacDonald, 195.

 

The Past is the Future with the Lights On: “What should we be thinking about for the war after next?”

 

It’s pretty obvious that Americans are uncomfortable about the U.S. getting into wars. They think Vietnam.  They think Afghanistan; that one was supposed to be “the good war.”  They think Iraq.  No more “war[s] on terror” please. But Americans have always been uncomfortable about getting into wars.  Yet, last May, Pentagon officials testified to Congress that keeping the AUMF in place is important to facilitate the ongoing “war on terrorism,” which will last “at least ten to twenty [more] years.”  Shortly thereafter, President Obama said in a speech at the NDU that it’s time for the United States to get off the trajectory of perpetual-war.  What gives? One thing you learn when studying History is that although the discipline itself deals with how things change over time, you come across many things that really don’t change all that much.  And while it’s true that we haven’t had a “great power” war in a long time, 1) we’ve had some pretty close calls, 2) we shouldn’t completely rule it out, and 3) even when we adopted this mentality by gutting our forces after the Cold War, we exposed ourselves to the other side of the conflict pendulum: the non-state actor.  We got caught flat-footed and here we are today.  With this in mind, here are some things to think about when thinking about what “future wars” will look like:

Many future wars will be fought off the backs of pickup trucks, dubbed “technicals.” Unlike tanks and heavy armor which are owned by the government, every rebel commander knows that all you’ve got to do is grab a Toyota pickup, strap on some military hardware, pile the back up with volunteers and speed off to the front line. Cheap, mobile, replaceable. What’s not to like?

I.  One thing that won’t change is struggles with insurgents and guerrillas; and neither will struggles with terrorist groups like al Qaeda.  After all, we may learn about the big “important” wars in History, with pitched battles and uniformed and organized armies, where one side wins and the other side loses, but a closer look of most of humanity’s violent conflicts have been smaller, prolonged, guerilla-like campaigns (Max Boot’s new book goes into great detail about this).  There is a spectrum of course; we can’t completely rule out the high intensity conflicts between nation-states, but a majority of conflicts will happen under the latter.   As for the AUMF, still in place and unchanged for over a decade, it will probably stick around for some time.  Those 60 words are too politically expedient to scrap altogether, but it will probably be reworked in the future, as it gives the Executive Branch extraordinary powers to handle the reality of the future of war: that wars have and will continue to take a really long time.  All guerrilla campaigns do. And so will counter-terrorism, which has been used synonymously with “war.”  A popular saying among Afghans when we invaded was, “You have all the watches, but we have all the time.” It’s pretty amazing how during the worst months of Vietnam, 2,000 soldiers died every month, but in this century running two wars at the same time in Iraq and Afghanistan, it took years to reach that level.  Fewer casualties can also mean a higher tolerance for pain, and therefore a higher tolerance for prolonged conflict, since it takes longer for the casualties to amass. It will also become increasingly uncertain as to what actually defines victory.  The war may be over for us, but will it necessarily always be over for the other guy?

Most of the world’s largest major cities and population centers are by the water. The United States Navy conveniently has a naval presence in every major body of water in the world. Littoral operations deploying from Carrier Battle Groups and allied ports are something that’s been done in the past and will continue to be done in the future, so long as there are oceans with people on the coasts.  The Marine Corps will be happy to be operating closer to their littoral roots, especially after fighting in landlocked deserts for over a decade.

II.   A second thing that won’t really change is geography. Geography should be a mainstay when thinking about the future of war, as it will determine where they will take place; and in the future, those places will overwhelmingly be in coastal cities and their immediate surroundings.  If current estimates that say 80% of the world’s population lives roughly within 60 miles of the coast are true, war will take on an increasingly littoral character.  And since a majority of the world’s cities, even in the developing world, are on or close to the world’s shorelines, war will take on an increasingly urban character too.  Yes, Kabul and Baghdad were “cities,” but imagine trying to do what we did there in a place like Mumbai, Cairo, Sao Paulo or Karachi. Surprisingly, the “developing world” has the majority of mega cities, with populations over 8,000,000 (that’s not accounting for undeclared residents and the suburbs). David Kilcullen reflects on his experience in Baghdad as a COIN advisor during the Iraq War:

We shut the city down. We brought in more than 100 kilometers of concrete T-wall. We put troops on every street corner. We got alongside people and try to make them feel safe. It was very, you know, sort of human intense and equipment intense. That option will not be open for us in the mega city. You won’t be able to do that in Karachi or just obviously, hypothetical examples, Lagos or Dakar or any of the big cities. There are 20 million people…

Enormous populations, weak governance and unresponsive institutions, growing inequality; all of this and more is a petri dish for trouble that can develop significant momentum and spiral into something else altogether.  This does not include the threat of rising sea levels, drought and famine, all of which are now grabbing the attention of Defense planners.

III.  Wars in the future will be littoral, urban and prolonged.  But many of them will also be “shadow wars.”  The post-9/11 counterterrorism model of intelligence-driven operations by multi-agency task forces around the globe will persist; the two snatch-and-grab operations by JSOC just hours apart in Somalia and Libya demonstrate that this war did not end with the killing of Osama bin Laden.  In fact, on the night of the bin Laden raid, special-operations forces based in Afghanistan alone conducted a dozen other missions with similar objectives.  Clandestine and covert operations go back to the Ancient Greeks, but with the technology we have today it’s going to get even easier to involve ourselves in conflicts, some of which we will claim responsibility for and others not at all.  Indeed, in light of the public’s general distaste for war, Defense brass will have to get more creative in how to wage it.   Our conventional dominance will continue to force adversaries to get more creative in their approaches to how they challenge us and our partners.  After all, why should they play our game?  Any formidable adversary will try to employ means to target our weaknesses and minimize our advantages.  Ramping up Special Operations, drone strikes, proxy-wars, cyber-warfare; all of those structures are here to stay, and they’ll only get more sophisticated and lethal.  Sun Tzu, the strategic sage, never limited war to the conventional battlefield; and if things like cyber-attacks and UAVs were at his disposal, he surely would have found a place for them in his maxims.

In the wars of the future, sometimes our presence will be acknowledged, sometimes it won’t. But in the Information Age, you’ll know it when you see it, even if it’s just a shadow.

IV.  Finally, another thing to keep in mind: war will always be rife with unintended consequences.  Von Moltke the Elder said “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy,” essentially the modern version of that Mike Tyson quote: “Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.”  You can tell yourself “The war will be over by Christmas” and plan for short, decisive engagements, but not every war is Desert Storm.  Working off of von Moltke, defense planners and decision makers will have to be flexible and adaptable.  The days when the U.S. can pick and choose its wars are coming to an end.  We have annual defense and intelligence assessments, battle plans, the works, but every now and then you’re going to get it wrong.  You have to be able to commit to a strategy, but be able to come up with something completely different if the circumstances require it.  We need to be balanced and flexible enough to deal with groups with increasingly advanced capabilities like other nation-states, while also keeping an eye on the non-state actors.  Doubling down on deterring a potential peer competitor (or an increasingly confrontational former peer competitor) without leaving yourself vulnerable to a lower-end confrontation will be a challenge.  Additionally, elements of future conflicts will be roboticized, and technology is certainly a force-multiplier, but let’s not kid ourselves and remove the human role from war and conflict.  Manpower will continue to play an important role in war and nothing will replace the good old-fashioned “on the ground” intelligence, or HUMINT.  The 9/11 attacks were [in part] an unintended consequence of gutting HUMINT during the Bush Sr. and Clinton years; with the end of the Cold War the conventional thinking at the time was that we couldn’t justify this large military and intelligence apparatus.  On the flipside the attacks were an unintended consequence of too much HUMINT, as we supported bin Laden and the mujahedeen in 1970s Afghanistan.  Clearly, a balance can be struck, but it seems we prefer the pendulum method instead: either too much, or not enough.

Technically speaking, the future of war won’t be “bloodier,” since our laser blasters and lightsabers will cauterize the wounds they make, so you know, actually less blood.  But as the saying goes, “The more things change, the more things stay the same.”  War will continue to be war.  But as we find newer ways to kill each other, the above-mentioned thoughts will hopefully ground us in certain realities that aren’t really new at all, but are less emphasized or forgotten.  But the past is only the future with the lights on; it’s best to look back for some insight we can use in the years ahead.

Don’t Fughettabout Foreign Policy: Risks and Trends for 2014

David Kessler and Peter Kouretsos – Happy New Year, everybody! Big things happened in 2013: Dave and I graduated in May and we’re all still here, which means that the world didn’t blow itself up. And to us here at the Brooklyn Diplomat, that’s a reassuring sign that we’re doing ok and that it could always be worse. Not great, but ok. It helps us put things into perspective.  But we digress. We’ve been reading lots of articles lately about what to expect in 2014, and while we’ve found some of the trends, forecasts and “predictions” out there to be agreeable and insightful, the overall impression we got can only be described by one of our favorite movies (because Brooklyn, that’s why)

Ok, maybe not exactly BS, but lots of this stuff seemed pretty obvious. It’s not very Brooklyn at all. And as the official trendsetter of the modern world, the gentlemen and scholars of Brooklyn ought to have a say in what to expect in a post 2013 world.  Main takeaway from all of what you’re about to read right now: Foreign policy. Start caring about it. While last year’s headlines were dominated by economics, just one look at any of the headlines this past month shows that 2014 will be a “Foreign Policy” year.  This is what Dave and I are thinking about now as we begin 2014.  At the end, we’ll also share with you our New Year’s resolutions.

First Up: PETER KOURETSOS

#5) MENA unrest expands:

2014 is going to be a record year for violence in Iraq (a great primer can be found here). Runner ups in terms of unrest and instability are going to be obvious, Egypt and Libya, where the money is running out and the governments being propped up at the moment simply are not working. There are also serious concerns of a security vacuum in Afghanistan with talks of a U.S. 2014 pullout if a Bilateral Security Agreement doesn’t get hammered out; failure here would mean Afghanistan spirals back to the way it was before the 2001 invasion and we’re back to square one.

Adding fuel to the fire in Egypt, the interim government backed by Sisi (who may very well run for President soon) and the SCAF recently declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Both the Brotherhood and the government have reached a point of no return. By labeling the Brotherhood a terrorist organization and denying them any political voice, they’ve committed themselves to stamping them out for good; or risk them returning to power and destroying them. The Brotherhood, now backed into a corner, doesn’t have much to lose. And when one group has everything to lose while another has nothing to lose, it rarely ends well. It’s a very desperate situation. It’s a very…Syria(ous) situation…

Al-Qaeda is certainly not what it used to be after bin Laden’s death, but that does not necessarily make it weaker or stronger; it just makes it different. And if we don’t adapt to that, “different” will become “dangerous.”

2014 will be a “good” year for al Qaeda.  We will see a proliferation of small, local al Qaeda “units” that will take the jihad locally. This is not to say that some groups won’t target the U.S. directly anymore, but the emphasis will be local, where they can take advantage of economic hardship, weak, ineffective and unresponsive governance, and social unrest.  They have, for example, used Western Syria as a haven to launch operations into Iraq’s Anbar province, most notably in Fallujah.

Violence will grow and al Qaeda and its affiliates will grow.  The willingness of the U.S. and the Allies to devote significant resources to deal with these threats is not what it used to be (as opposed to right after 9/11).  To make matters more troublesome, the capacity for local governments and “partners” to pick up the slack simply isn’t there.  Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are bursting at the seams and risk becoming more unstable as they take in more refugees from the Syrian war, which is not ending any time soon.  If you want to know whether this new decentralized and fragmented al Qaeda is weaker or stronger than it was before Osama bin Laden’s death, you’re asking the wrong question.  It is certainly not what it used to be, but that does not necessarily make it weaker or stronger; it just makes it different.  In the environment described above, the so-called “al Qaeda 2.0” after 2011 becomes “al Qaeda 3.0” in 2014.

 #4) Consequences of an Iran deal:

As per the accord hammered out last November, Iran has halted its 20% enrichment and just began blending down its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium this January. The West has made good on their end of the bargain by lifting some sanctions.

Hassan Rouhani was elected for this very reason. Sanctions were biting and he has been tasked to stop the bleeding. He does not have the go-ahead from the Ayatollahs to completely eliminate enrichment, but the momentum is there in 2014 for a deal with limited enrichment in exchange for a seat as a member of the international community.

We will find very soon whether a nuclear deal with Iran is going to happen, maybe even by the end of the first quarter.  If it does, oil prices could take a hit when Iranian crude enters the market and the Saudis, Venezuelans and Russians will find themselves in a very difficult position. Petroleum exports account for a disproportionate amount of their national revenues because they have chosen not to diversify, mainly because they just never saw the need to.  Will they decrease production (and lower exports) to keep prices where they’re at now, or do they continue at current production levels and watch prices fall?

Either way, if a deal with Iran happens this year, the funds used to grease the wheels of these petro-states could begin to dry up. But if a deal does not occur, oil prices could spike, the potential for an Israeli strike will go up, the risk of other MENA states going nuclear goes up and the Iranians move much more quickly to a nuclear “breakout” capability.

3) Elections happening just about everywhere:

I know people are talking about U.S. Midterm Elections and are also on the lookout for anyone announcing a 2016 Presidential run, but I’ll let Dave take that one.  Pretty much any emerging market most investors have been talking about that can have elections this year is having elections. China is the exception here since they don’t have elections. I am also not counting Russia in this either.

A little under half of the world’s population will vote some time in 2014. The Economist breaks it down for you.

When I’m talking emerging markets I’m talking Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia, India, South Africa, Columbia, Turkey (a full list here).  Many of these large economies have one thing in common: most of the parties in power now have been in power for more than a decade.  And for at least the past 10 years, the effectiveness of their governance has been questionable.  These countries are at a crossroads; a case in point is Turkey.  PM Erdogan must step down due to term limits but he can still win and hold the ceremonial office of President this year; we could see a Prime Minister-President seat-holding scenario similar to Putin’s Russia with Dmitry Medvedev.  But Erdogan’s AKP will still need to win local elections, and though they are still generally popular, recent discontent with the AKP’s strongarm tactics and a political crisis sparked by the Gezi Park protests could lose them some seats.

Brazil is another notable country with major elections to watch, and the World Cup (plus with the Olympics two years away) will add more to its complexity.  President Dilma Rousseff’s party will likely stay in 2014, but only because Latin American politics as a whole is uniquely more populist and often lacks strong opposition parties. Economic growth has also plummeted while public funds have been used to prepare the country for the World Cup and the Olympics. Extravagant stadiums next to run-down favelas will present the world with a Latin American version of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.”

And as for the most populous Muslim country in the world in the ever-growing and important Southeast Asian region, Indonesia undergoes both Presidential and Parliamentary elections; it would do the United States some good if they re-engaged and reaffirmed their commitment to an Asia-Pacific “pivot.”  And although the popular topic right now is Ukraine, all eyes will be on Thailand as it navigates a political crisis between rival factions; it’s unlikely that an election will solve anything without an agreement between the clashing parties, and the risk of a military coup is always there.

#2 )Reforming China:

The Peoples Republic of China’s (PRC) Third Plenum launched significant and unprecedented political reforms that will fundamentally alter how China is governed.  In 2014 we will see the beginning of those, and consequently, the beginning of a new China. I’m still optimistic about China in 2014; the PRC’s resilience amid the decades of challenges it’s faced has been far too consistent to bet against.

By a show of hands, who’s betting against China in 2014? Nobody? Ok, cool, just making sure.

In Xi Jinping’s first year of governance, he’s engaged in more reform than in the PRC’s past 20 years.  This means real economic reform, a free-trade zone in Shanghai, anti-corruption moves, things that will get China on track for a serious restructuring.  But reform in China will make lots of people who have an interest in the status quo very unhappy. The Plenum was meant for Xi to consolidate as much power for himself to strong-arm these things through. The core issues and problems have never been external for China.  They have always been about, well…China. China’s core interests have always been domestic security and national unity. In fact, the new National Security body that was established after the Plenum, unlike ours, is focused on cracking down on internal matters like corruption, protests and unrest in the countryside.

China has greatly benefited from globalization, but they also have a long history of getting hurt when they expose themselves too much to the whims of other nations and foreign-based corporations that want to do business there.  The Opium Wars and the Unequal Treaty system during the 19th and early 20th centuries are the most popular examples of this.  This is why China has and will always be wary of any “comprehensive” and “binding” trade agreements and other multilateral treaties. China would much rather negotiate bilaterally, with one nation at a time, and on its own terms. So although the Bali talks and Doha give me hope for comprehensive international trade agreements, I’m not expecting China to commit to anything like it in 2014.

And if things get uneasy internally for China, with discontent and nationalism coming to a head, count on Xi and the Party to release some steam from the tea kettle and deflect those energies towards Japan and its neighbors who are suspicious of a more aggressive China. And in this kind of pressure-cooker environment, with all of their history and provoking the risk for a showdown with the Japanese as the Chinese reform process beings is real.

#1) The U.S. walks alone

The U.S. walks alone at the start of 2014, but it’s never time for it to throw in the towel. 2014 is a pivotal foreign policy year, and if they play their cards right, the United States can mitigate 2014’s risks and repair the damages of 2013.

Ok, Geopolitics 101 stipulates that there are exceptions to this: the British, the Canadians, the Mexicans and the Israelis. These relationships are maintained because of strategic choice and necessity, although there have been discussions about Israel’s discomfort with their U.S. relationship as of late.

Those exceptions aside, I am seeing signs that we’re beginning to live in a world where U.S. Foreign Policy has become less clear and less certain and decisive.  Our cuts in Defense and foreign aid make the rest of the world uneasy, and question our commitments. We’re also beginning to taper, and the money that used to float around and find its way to other nations’ markets isn’t going to be there anymore.  All other countries tied to the U.S. are concerned and are questioning the traditional terms of their relationship: South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Germany and France come to mind.  This includes trying to move away from U.S. standards in the global economy and changing the way they think about security, especially in light of the NSA revelations.  There is a level of uncertainty in the world that we have not seen in decades from the world’s only superpower, and I will be closely watching to see how this plays out in 2014.

Am I saying that the U.S. is in decline? No. I won’t go that far and jump on the bandwagon that started picking up steam during the 2008 financial crisis. The dollar is still strong.  The Chinese still want their kids to come to American universities. Any internationals who want to move their money out of the country brings it here.  We are still a safe bet. The legal system works and we are politically stable. In terms of U.S. innovation in energy, agriculture, biotechnology, nanotechnology, etc; the U.S. still dominates. The “dysfunctional Congress” even passed a $1.1 trillion bill that funds the government through 2014.  So no, America is not in decline. Its foreign policy is in decline. It is losing its ability to get what it wants abroad.

The same applies with Obama and Congress.  2014 will be the President’s last best chance to push an agenda for the rest of his term; after 2014 everyone gets so caught up in the election season that it’ll be difficult for his Administration to get any attention or support after this year.

As President Obama goes live in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, his focus will likely be on the economy, the issues of growing inequality, a partisan Congress and a stagnant middle class, all important concerns.  But after all that’s happened in the last 6 months on the international front, pay close attention to which issues the President will emphasize besides the domestic ones.   I can’t say what he will choose as foreign policy priorities, but a comprehensive agreement with Iran on curbing their nuclear program, wrapping up Afghanistan and repairing the strained friendships with our allies would be a good start.  President Obama still has 3 more years in office, and second-term Presidents in their last couple of years in office often try and leave their mark on foreign policy.  And with the Obamacare rollout leaving a black mark on the President’s legacy, foreign policy can help save what’s left of it.  And I think he knows this.  And with all the talk about “national interests” in foreign policy discussions on the news, most Americans see the only “national interest” as nation building here at home. The polls speak for themselves: A majority of Americans are more disillusioned with the U.S.’s role abroad than ever before.  They just don’t see the point anymore.  And after Iraq and Afghanistan, “fughettaboutit” isn’t just a Brooklyn word anymore.  Let’s just hope that Obama doesn’t fughettabout foreign policy in 2014.

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Last but not least: DAVID KESSLER

#5) Pope Francis and the Catholic Church:

If I had to point to any one trend that I was most excited about or which I thought would be the most profound in 2014, it would be the current direction of the Catholic Church.  After emerging from the College of Cardinals as Pontifex Maximus only a year ago, Pope Francis (Formerly Bishop of Argentina Jorge Bergoglio) has already rocked the boat with his humble demeanor, his progressive tone when making remarks on various “hot topics,” and his focus on social justice for the World’s poor.  Furthermore, Francis was the first Pope to be elected from the Americas and is the first Jesuit Pope. As of late, Pope Francis has even been named Person of the Year by Time for 2013.  And as two young, Jesuit-educated, Christian gentlemen (Pete’s Orthodox and he’s excited for more Ecumenical dialogue between East and West now), we’re pleased with Pope Frank.

I see this pivot in the Church marking a major shift in how it will conduct itself in the 21st century.  While recent Popes have made significant strides toward modernizing the Church, namely Pope John XXIII and Pope John-Paul II, Pope Francis seems to be someone who can strike a balance of fully mobilizing the global youth who have been unable to identify with the Church as of late, while still maintaining the more “traditional” Catholic following.  From what I gather from Pope Francis’ various remarks, the Church will certainly be much more aggressive in the fight to combat poverty in the so-called, “developing,” world.  Furthermore, to conclude endless discourses on questions such as homosexuality, abortion, and other social flashpoints for the Church, the Pope will likely brush those questions aside in favor of addressing what he feels are the most pressing issues: poverty, faith, and community.  These are issues that he can unite the most people around and bring them closer to the Church, regardless of their views on the contentious topics.

#4) Syria:

Assad has taken some hard hits, but he has also been able to exploit and leverage the diverse conglomerate of rebel groups to survive. I don’t think he’s going anywhere in 2014.

The prolonged civil war in Syria seems to encapsulate many different global struggles, both direct and proxy.  There seems to be no immediate end to the fighting, and one can only hope that 2014 is the year that the bloodshed is concluded.  More broadly the Assad regime in Syria, assisted by both Hezbollah and Iran, is struggling to remain in power as an Alawite-led regime in the predominately Sunni state of Syria.  Meanwhile, the Sunni Arab States and al-Qaeda continue to push back against the regime and support the revolution.

Though I foresee a prolonged conflict in the Levant for a while longer, any victor in Syria (if there ever is one) would probably be Assad.  Although the international community has called for him to step down and/or negotiate a settlement, Assad and his regime have shown resilience and an incredible tolerance for pain; thus far this is evidence that he still commands substantial legitimacy among his supporters, and the state is robust enough to survive in 2014 and beyond.  In particular, the military seems to be generally supportive of his leadership, in contrast to what we saw in Egyptian in 2011, where the Egyptian SCAF refused to continue backing then-President Hosni Mubarak.  There have been some defections, but as long as the military remains with Assad, I do not believe he will be defeated unless a greater outside force (al-Qaeda or a foreign power) is able to bolster the rebels to overpower the Syrian military or dissuade them from supporting Assad.

#3) A Strained US – Russia Relationship:

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney memorably stated in 2012 that Russia is, “without question our [the United States’] number-one geopolitical foe.” For the record, the jury is still out on whether this remark is true.  But as of late there have been many events to suggest that this Cold War mentality may be relevant.  Perhaps the most talked about man involving a deteriorating U.S. –Russian relationship, Edward Snowden, will continue to test US-Russia relations into the coming year.  The slight against the U.S. when Russia agreed to give him asylum against cries for “justice” in the U.S. is ever present. Furthermore, we still don’t know the true extent of the damage he’s done or what it is he took with him. Granting him amnesty is probably off the table at this point, since he’s been to two countries that are two of the U.S.’s greatest cyber-security threats (China and Russia). Continuing points from the previous stated trend, the Syrian Civil War is also an indirect struggle between Russia and the United States.  The United States has traditionally backed the most powerful Sunni nation in the region, Saudi Arabia, while Russia has traditionally backed the most powerful Shia nation, Iran, and consequently, Syria.  Thus, the war in Syria looks ever more like the Cold War-era proxy conflicts. As a positive, the recent deal for Syria to voluntarily give up its chemical weapons for destruction was jointly agreed upon between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has shown that we can find some common ground on some issues.

C’mon guys. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward.

During the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia may also display the status of relations between the two nations.  To prepare for Russia’s gig on the global stage, President Putin has granted amnesty to thousands of prisoners, including his biggest rival, oil-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.  This is an attempt to show that Russia has not receded to its harsh Soviet ways.  It should be noted, however, that these acts of “good will” may only temporarily improve Russia’s image rather than act as precedent for real reform within Putin’s Russia.  The US-Russian relationship will certainly make headlines over the upcoming year, but if the past is a judge for things to come, it looks like only headlines we’ll be reading will be about a stagnant or deteriorating relationship. Let’s hope at least for the former.

#2) A key year for the U.S. in 2014:

On the U.S. domestic front, another exciting year of political gridlock and debacle is on the horizon.  As President Obama enters the New Year with his lowest approval ratings since his inauguration, he will be quarterbacking the salvation effort for his signature legislation, the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA, aka “Obamacare.”)   The website setbacks we’ve been reading about will be corrected in the coming weeks and Obamacare will receive its real test: whether the nation is willing to choose to enter healthcare exchanges or pay the penalty of not acquiring healthcare.  From my point of view, the ACA is here to stay and Americans will likely warm up to it if, and only if, enough people choose to enroll in Health Insurance rather than pay the penalty.  Whether the new system will work as efficiently or as cost effectively as legislators suggested is to be seen in the coming years.  However, the Democrats have been running on the ACA (or at least the idea of it) for nearly 50 years. They cannot afford for this to fall through. And it’s unlikely that Republicans will repeal it; it’s much easier to give out a social good than to take it away.  Thus, I would say that Obamacare is here to stay at least for the next 8-10 years.

Democrats, Republicans, and pretty much everybody else may be pointing fingers at each other, but one thing’s for sure: U.S. leaders have their work cut out for them in 2014.

On the flip side of American politics, the Republican Party will look to maximize the Obamacare confusion and win support to its cause while overcoming internal discord.  Within the party, two very distinct groups have emerged that are going to butt heads: the traditional “establishment” Republicans and the Tea Party Republicans.  Outspoken members of the Tea Party faction include Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.  Notable establishment GOP members include Senator John McCain and Governor Chris Christie.  While the traditional Republicans hold the majority of high ranking Republican positions, the Tea Partiers have secured some significant grassroots support.  The Tea Party’s most notable contribution (or lack thereof) to politics was their integral part in triggering the Federal Government Shutdown of 2013.  During this episode, the Tea Party legislators did exactly what they said they would do when running for their seats in government: attack the ACA by any means.  Unfortunately for both the nation and the Republican Party, this “noble stand” was a decisive defeat that cost the country weeks of Federal Government impotence.

From where I stand, the division and subsequent struggle for the Republican Party, ought to happen as soon as possible.  Political infighting followed by consolidation is nothing new, even internationally: Remember how Tony Blair led an internal movement within his Labour Party, moving it from the far-left/left to the center-left. And in 1997 the Labour Party achieved its first election victory since 1979.  Likewise, a strong leader from the center-right in the U.S. can assume a similar Tony Blair-like role over the party before the Presidential election of 2016 and move it in a more moderate direction.  The sooner and more decisive the struggle, the better.  A good barometer of this internal struggle will certainly be the upcoming 2014 congressional elections.

#1) Have No Fear, the Global Economy is Here!:

Finally, in regards to the global economy, I predict a very fruitful year.  [The majority of] Europe will return to greater prosperity and competitiveness than before the European debt crisis began.  The U.S will continue to grow its economy but it too must find solutions to reducing its public deficit so as to achieve sustainable economic growth.   The Chinese will continue to power forward with after a year of robust growth in 2013, although we’re beginning to see signs that they’re beginning to pump the brakes .  Japan will continue to be mired in its incredible public debt (which it will attempt to solve by printing more money) and oncoming demographic collapse (which can be mended by immigration reform, but probably little will be done to address that).  Russia and Brazil will get their time in the sun during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  Both events will be great opportunities to show off the economic advantages for foreign investment in their respective countries.  Russia ought to seek continued growth, which has been strong since President Putin came to power. Brazil, on the other hand, has seen rather sluggish economic growth as of late and will certainly try to reverse that trend. As for the smaller economies of the world, they ought to perform positively if history is any judge of future trends.  Overall, the coming year will continue to see a dramatic reduction in Global Poverty and the world economy will grow substantially.

Nobody can account for all the bumps in the roads, and I’m sure 2014 will see its fair share of black swans. But the world will keep spinning.

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Two New Year’s Resolutions from two new graduates:
Pete: “Apply to Grad School in the Fall so I can defer my student loans next year!”
Dave: “See more friends and keep thinking scholarly and happy thoughts! We’ll get through 2014 everybody, let’s also try to enjoy it a little too!”