Tag Archives: international affairs

What does Wikileaks have to say about the Swedes?

(Note:  No Wikileaks cables were actually viewed in the writing of this post.  Rather all of the information came from media sources describing the data which, if I understand things correctly, makes them -the stories-fair game to comment on.)

Cablegate (sigh…I guess we’re stuck with that name) has some interesting things to say about the Swedes and Finns.

Not particularly surprising yet nice to be explicitly discussed was the American assessment that Swedish neutrality continues to exist in name only.

Wood furthermore wrote that information from Sweden’s military and civil security services is an important source of information for the USA for Russian military conditions and for knowledge of Iran’s nuclear programme.

I did think it unusual that the Social Democrats were so forthcoming about internal political issues to the American ambassador.

The Social Democrats‘ foreign policy spokesperson Urban Ahlin criticised his party’s lack of ideas in meetings with officials from the US embassy, according to US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

The other item worthy of note is the Swedish commitment to the Afghan mission.  Allegedly (because the minister in question is denying the conversation took place) asked for help in getting an Afghan minister to visit the Riksdag in the hopes that the resulting discussion would bolster support for the Swedish mission in Afghanistan.

The CIA did yet another bang-up job.  While flying their prisoners to various black sites around the world, the Swedish government “made it clear that it wanted to know if the United States was transporting prisoners and indicated that future flights would be given closer scrutiny” after receiving reports that planes listed as ‘private’ were in fact chartered by the U.S. and suspected of carrying prisoners.  To verify such things were, in fact occurring:

Confirmation that the planes were transporting prisoners came in April 2006 after a daring “surveillance operation” was ordered by Swedish security service Säpo and carried out without the knowledge of the Americans.

On Säpo’s orders, Swedish military intelligence agents dressed up as airport service personnel and boarded the plane. The agents reported back that the plane was carrying prisoners.

Hey guys.  If you’re moving prisoners around the world and want to keep it secret it’s probably not a good idea to let the catering guy have free run of the aircraft to resupply your stash of peanuts.

Wikileaks and ‘cablegate’

First…can we please STOP putting ‘gate’ on the end of everything?

Ok, If I can come up with an interesting plan I intend on going through some of the numerous cables that Wikileaks is releasing into the world .  At this point however, I don’t have anything to say of the substance of the materials.  I do have some thoughts however:

  • Is it established that Bradley Manning is the source of these leaks (and the Afghan ones AND the original Iraq ones)?
  • We’re well into the information age.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking how is this happening but why isn’t it happening more often.  It also seems like we should expect things like this to happen in the future and plan accordingly.
  • I have to admit I find the issue fascinating.  We’ve been talking about non-state actors for years now but now we have a new sub-category.  Despite outrage from the U.S., Julian Assange isn’t a terrorist and having the CIA send out a hit team (which they’d probably screw up in any case) just isn’t appropriate.  Still, I think you could argue that he’s causing an amazing amount of disruption (at least in the short term).
  • Wikileaks is in desperate need of someone with web development skills.  Their search options, quite frankly, suck.  And now that they’ve been the victims of some DOS attacks, it’d be nice if they’d throw the stuff out on a torrent somewhere for download.

I agree with J that I don’t really see this as shaking the foundations of international relations.  Yes it’ll cause some embarrassment but, quite frankly, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Elected leaders lying to an elected representative body with the approval of the United States (beacon of democracy)?  Yeah, forgive me for not crying over that.  Continuing to give cover to Saudi Arabia who privately asks us to attack Iran yet continues to fund radical Islamism around the world?  No sympathy for the boys in State for that.

MSNBC has done a really crap job covering this issue.  Yesterday, while waiting to go to the airport I was watching Morning Joe (mea culpa!) as they were remarking (in astonishment) how such a low level soldier could access such information.

Their answer?

We need to restrict access to information!  Yeah…remember the 9/11 commission and their description of information stovepipes and agencies refusing to share with each other.  Absolutely…let’s go back to that!

And then this nonsense story about how much of a boon the information dump is to terrorists.  Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce Red Herring:

For example, a cable from Abu Dhabi describes a dinner hosted by Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.He was having the dinner party for the former American CENTCOM Cmdr. John Abizaid. The cables listed a half-dozen senior UAE military officials who attended the dinner.

This is not just a guest list. WikiLeaks exposed the inner circle of the UAE’s military and intelligence command. The guest list identified the power players, information that could be useful to someone who wants to harm the UAE, or change the nation’s policy.

While the names and titles of the security officials are known (they can be looked up on Google), revealing who gathers for a top-level meeting shows who is really important. There are many security officials in the UAE.  The dinner list identifies which ones are critical.

Yes, because terrorists looking for targets will use google, look at the top result (hopefully it’s not an ad!) and stop right there.  They’d never even think about doing a good, thorough open source search or (gasp) a covert information gathering operation.

If you’re in the Princeton area today…Updated!

There’s a lecture at the Woodrow Wilson school that sounds pretty good:

“The Politics and Psychology of Intelligence: Iraq and Other Wars”

October 07, 2010 4:30 p.m. 6:00 p.m.

Location: Robertson Hall Bowl 016
If I can make it there, find me and I’ll buy you a beer.  The code phrase is:  ‘Shiloh sent me’
UPDATE:  Yeah, it might help if I could tell the 6th from the 7th.  Not sure if I can make it tomorrow but if I can, the deal is still on.

‘There are opportunities…it just depends on if you can grab them.’

If you’re concerned about a growing Chinese military threat you’re wasting your time.  Rather, if you see China as a threat to American hegemony you should be looking at places like Senegal.  Al Jazeera has a special about Chinese immigration to Africa.  How many Americans (even in this time of economic hardship) are willing to pack up and move to a new economic frontier?  Meanwhile, who do you think is going to have more influence throughout the continent in the next 10 or 20 years?

Best line:  ‘Chinese people like to do things quickly and things move slower in Africa.’

One doesn’t usually hear of Chinese being the impatient ones.  After all, aren’t they still waiting to see how the French revolution worked out?

Kvick Tänkare

This article (I can’t remember where from now..mea culpa!) discusses some interesting and disturbing research if you’re looking for underlying causes why some countries ‘made it’ and others have struggled.  Don’t think colonialism or slavery…you have to go much further back.

1500 AD technology is a particularly powerful predictor of per capita income today. 78 percent of the difference in income today between sub-Saharan Africa and Western Europe is explained by technology differences that already existed in 1500 AD – even BEFORE the slave trade and colonialism.

The state of technology in 1000 BC has a strong correlation with technology 2500 years later, in 1500 AD.

This dude has had his house hit by meteors six times!  Now, he might be the only guy in the world who can say this and not be dismissed as a kook out of hand:

“I am obviously being targeted by extraterrestrials,” he said.

Snapshot of economic attitudes in America: Mrs. TwShiloh was shopping and a man was behind her in line with one or two items.  Mrs. TwShiloh, having a fairly full cart and, more important, handfuls of coupons said:

“If you’d like you can go ahead of me.  I’ll probably take a while with all these coupons.”

To which he replied:  ‘No problem…I like to see capitalism get ripped off.’  I think it’s reasonable to assume that guy didn’t purchase a copy of ‘Going Rouge’.

H/T Balko for a link to this story about a mashup between NGOs and an Abbott and Costello routine:

The World Health Organization found itself Friday in the strange position of defending North Korea’s health care system from an Amnesty International report, three months after WHO’s director described medicine in the totalitarian state as the envy of the developing world.

Cynic is guest posting for TNC and he raises some interesting questions about the intersection of COIN and law enforcement.

Last year, our forces shot and killed 36 Afghan civilians, and wounded more than twice that number, as their vehicles approach convoys and checkpoints. And not once since McChrystal’s arrival have any of those we’ve shot proved to be a genuine threat. Imagine, if you will, that the NYPD had a record like that.

Look out Stephen Colbert.  Bears may be a big threat now but global warming may put giant marmots at the top of the threatdown.

Neo-Nazi clothing maker throws a hissy fit when some people decide to market their own line of clothing mocking them.  If you’re going to be a nazi, you probably shouldn’t be a whiner as well.

Bildt slams Holbrooke

Interesting article in the Local today about the Swedish Foreign Minister’s reaction to the McChrystal firing.  He’s apparently not fond of Mr. Holbrooke himself:

Let’s say that I have myself worked with Mr. Holbrooke through the years, so I understand the sentiment expressed,” he added ironically.


99 Luftbalons

In the backdrop of heightening tensions between North and South Korea, a number of schoolchildren released 50 balloons into the sky.  I’ll let Foreign Policy take the story from there:

The man who spotted the air-borne rubber fleet twenty miles outside the capital city Seoul mistook the colorful orbs for parachutes and instantly raised the alarm. A military and police investigation was quickly mounted…

And so, life imitates art and this gives me an excuse to go into the vaults for this Music Monday.

Power fragmentation or centralization?

Interesting juxtaposition of positions about the future of the state and where power will reside.

In this corner is this interview with John Robb.

Democracy, as we knew it, will wither and the nation-state bureaucracy will increasingly become an enforcer for the global bond market and kleptocratic transnational corporations. Think Argentina, Greece, Spain, Iceland, etc. As a result, the legitimacy of the developed democracies will fade and the sense of betrayal will be pervasive (think in terms of the collapse of the Soviet Union). People will begin to shift their loyalties to any local group that can provide for their daily needs. Many of these groups will be crime fueled local insurgencies and militias. In short, the developed democracies will hollow out.

And compare that with this interview with Ian Bremmer who argues that we’re seeing an emerging of state capitalism which

if they leave it entirely to market forces to determine who wins and who loses from market activity, they risk enriching those who might use their new wealth to challenge the state’s political legitimacy.To determine how (and for whom) wealth is generated, authoritarians have invented various forms of state capitalism. Inside China, Russia, and other authoritarian countries, the state now dominates entire economic sectors. They use state-owned and privately owned national champion companies to intervene in global markets for energy, aviation, shipping, power generation, arms production, telecommunications, metals, minerals, petrochem­icals, and other industries. They finance state capitalism with the help of sovereign wealth funds. Their purpose is to use the power of markets to create wealth that can be directed as political officials see fit. The ultimate motive is not economic (maximizing growth) but political (maximizing the state’s power and the leadership’s chances of survival).

Kind of interesting in that Robb seems to argue that the forces of globalization will cause power and loyalty to spiral out from the center while Bremmer argues that globalization will cause the state to clamp down in order to maintain the political system.  And since the state still has a preponderance of force at its disposal it will be able to maintain control, at least for the foreseeable future.

Robb seems a bit alarmist to me.  I’m getting a bit weary of hearing about the imminent demise of the nation state and think he might be assuming that since some nations have trouble with stability they all will.  So, when he says:

…large scale governance is on the way out. Not only are nearly all governments financially insolvent, they can’t protect citizens from a global system that is running amok.

I suspect Bremmer would respond with something like:

China’s success has persuaded authoritarians around the world that they really can have explosive growth without undermining their monopoly hold on domestic political power. China has enjoyed double-digit growth for thirty years without freedom of speech, without well-established economic rules of the road, without judges that can ignore political pressure, without credible property rights—without democracy. And the events of the past 18 months have made China more important that ever for the future of global economic growth.

Update: I’ve been thinking about this some more and I’m not totally sold on Robbs’ vision.  Iran has had one failed state on its border (Afghanistan) for 30 years now and another (failed?  failing?  stability challenged?) in Iraq for the past seven yet somehow (to almost universal dismay) it’s managed to hold on and maintain power throughout much of its territory.  Likewise, Africa is awash in failed states that border others that are able to function as real nation states.  So, to say that events on the Mexican border will result in America ‘hollowing out’.  Are we really more fragile than countries like Iran and Chad?

Further, I’m not too sure about this ‘local resiliency’ thing he talks about.

So, instead, control is ceded to local groups that can provide basic levels of opt-in security, minimal services, and jobs via new connections to the global economy…

I’m not sure if we’re at the point where we can maintain connections to the global economy and have the withering of the nation state.  It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the legal or illegal flow of goods and services, I suspect many of those systems in place now depend on some level of existence by a nation state in order to function.  Twitter and Facebook will not replace the Westphalian system.  If the nation-state dissolves, those with power will attempt to fill the vacuum and if that were to happen (again, I think the old girl still has some life left in her) a likely contender would be multinationals that have access to resources and wealth to hack out a new order.

In a way I get the feeling that these guys are both trying to describe the world in the late 5th century as the Roman Empire was collapsing.  Maybe Robb is writing from Gaul where the Dark Ages are closing in, society if fragmenting and things are about to get real local, real quick.

And maybe Bremmer is writing from Constantinople.  Increased state control will keep the empire chugging along but it’ll look very different from the principate of Augustus (or even Diocletian’s reformed empire).

Of course the real trick, if these guys are right and given the division between Robb’s Gaul and Bremmer’s Constantinople isn’t necessarily geographical, is deciding in which area you’d want to be in and how to make sure you get there.

Our strategy is ‘counting on apathy’?

From WikiLeaks, I submit to you this document purporting to be a memo from the CIA about generating support for the Afghan mission in Western Europe.

Western European publics might be better prepared to tolerate a spring and summer of greater military and civilian casualties if they perceive clear connections between outcomes in Afghanistan and their own priorities. A consistent and iterative strategic communication program across NATO troop contributors that taps into the key concerns of specific Western European audiences could provide a buffer if today’s apathy becomes tomorrow’s opposition to ISAF, giving politicians greater scope to support deployments to Afghanistan.

Observations about France:

Focusing on a message that ISAF benefits Afghan civilians and citing examples of concrete gains could limit and perhaps even reverse opposition to the mission. Such tailored messages could tap into acute French concern for civilians and refugees.

Conversely, messaging that dramatizes the potential adverse consequences of an ISAF defeat for Afghan civilians could leverage French (and other European) guilt for abandoning them.

And Germany:

Some German opposition to ISAF might be muted by proof of progress on the ground, warnings about the potential consequences for Germany of a defeat, and reassurances that Germany is a valued partner in a necessary NATO-led mission.

Sounds like there’s a plan to gear up the fear machine there:

Messages that dramatize the consequences of a NATO defeat for specific German interests could counter the widely held perception that Afghanistan is not Germany’s problem. For example, messages that illustrate how a defeat in Afghanistan could heighten Germany’s exposure to terrorism, opium, and refugees might help to make the war more salient to skeptics.

I guess a good indicator of U.S. worries about French and German commitments may be having the President making some trips and direct appeals:

The confidence of the French and German publics in President Obama’s ability to handle foreign affairs in general and Afghanistan in particular suggest that they would be receptive to his direct affirmation of their importance to the ISAF mission—and sensitive to direct expressions of disappointment in allies who do not help.

One wonders at just what kind of straws the writers were grasping at here.  What is the basis of their prediction that a personal appeal from President Obama might turn things around with the European public?

A one year old poll that showed that when Obama directly asked for increased participation from Europe, support among the French and Germans for such a policy rose ‘dramatically’ (so long as you define dramatically as support rising from 4% to 13% or 7% to 15% respectively).

Obama’s a great public speaker, he’s not a miracle worker.  It’s unlikely Europeans are going to be more receptive today to the message of more or longer deployments to Afghanistan than they were a year ago.  Short of proving he’s the son of Jor-El, counting on him to single handedly turn around public opinion about Afghanistan is going to be a bit of a stretch.

Maybe apathy is the best bet after all.

Kvick Tänkare

Scientists are examining the possibility that Polynesians, those most famous of sea travelers, made it all the way to South America.  They came to this conclusion, in part, by studying the DNA of sweet potatoes.  Sweet Potatoes on the Chilean coast are more closely related to those found in Polynesia than those descended from those brought to Europe by early explorers.

…many researchers now think it likely that Polynesians reached South America by about 1200 C.E., after the settlement of Easter Island, and several centuries before Europeans arrived around 1500 C.E.

As a side note, I picked up this story from the Science Podcast.

Never forget…the surge worked.

I just found out about Forced March Games which is developing what looks like a great little game about the 2nd Punic War.  It’s got a totally retro/board game look and feel about it and should be coming out soon.  I downloaded the demo and it’s pretty fun (although you can only play two turns on the ‘beginner’ level so you don’t get much of a feel for its long term playability).  You can, however, go through the whole tutorials so if it is something you’ll want you’ll know how to play it as soon as it comes out.

Everyone knows about the terrible destruction of habitat and animal life caused by the BP oil spill.  So, how are other states reacting?  Let’s look at New Jersey:

A three-year effort to reestablish oyster beds in the Hackensack River by a Rutgers University researcher has been derailed by a new ban on such projects by the state.

Despite pleas from researchers, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin last week issued the ban on research-related “gardening” of commercial shellfish in polluted waters to protect the state’s $790 million-a-year shellfish industry, which is centered in cleaner southern New Jersey waters.

Oysters are filter feeders and are really good at cleaning up polluted waterways (which New Jersey has in abundance) but, the nitwits in the NJ Department of Environmental Protection has decided that since Southern oyster beds are going to be devastated by BP the temptation for poachers to raid the test oyster beds (which will be contaminated and unfit for eating) will be irresistible and if someone got sick it might damage the reputation of the New Jersey shellfish industry.   So…the answer (of course) is destroy all the oyster fields.  Yeah…How about a word from some crazy, hippie do-gooders.

Our oysters are not fit for human consumption. Just like blue crabs, ribbed mussels, finfish and all manner of other crustaceans and shellfish in the harbor, our oysters live and grow in contaminated water and are the subject of consumption advisories. The DEP seems to fear that there are people out there who will find our reefs — though underwater at all times, — choose our oysters — though they are too small for human consumption, — remove them — though they are firmly affixed to immovable structures, — and then sell them to unwitting consumers. We think that danger is vanishingly unlikely.

More here.  It just makes you want to bang your head against a wall.

July 1st is going to be a great day.  Starbucks will begin offering free wi-fi at all their U.S. locations.  At that point there really is no need for me to physically go to that brick crap box where I work anymore.  Unfortunately, the man will not agree with that view and force me into my wage slavery at said crap box.

Holy moly…the German defense minister is 38 years old.  I guess I really am a slacker.  I’m 41 and still haven’t been named the head of a major national department yet.  It can’t be that hard of a job.  I mean, even I can do this well in an interview:

SPIEGEL: Minister Guttenberg, how will the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, look in 10 years?

Guttenberg: Different.