Thursday, 29 August 2013

For North Korea, reconciliation is all about the money

During the tense diplomatic row on the Korean Peninsula in April, a seriously worrying event pushed the argument closer to the edge. In a moment of theatre replete with podium-bashing North Korean belligerency, Pyongyang decided that closing the Kaesong Industrial Complex would be an appropriate escalation to teach the South a lesson.

Once the North Koreans realised their standard rhetorical efforts and military posturing about sending ballistic, nuclear-tipped missiles onto the United States had failed to achieve whatever goals they aimed for, the important joint venture on the border of both Koreas was abruptly shut down. And at the time, reopening the facility looked highly unlikely.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) - funded by South Korea and built in the North Korean city of Kaesong - was established in 2004 as an emblem of goodwill between the North and South.
The complex is certainly important for economic cooperation, but its real purpose for any observing international officials is as a good bellwether of diplomatic relations on the peninsula.

This is why shutting the industrial park down earlier this year was considered such a dire move in the game for influence. Kaesong employs over 53,000 North Koreans in manufacturing and industrial roles and is run almost exclusively by South Korean managers and businesses. The complex provides cheap labour for the South Koreans as North Korean workers churn out textiles and processed foods from 123 different companies. The facility is the only one of its kind.

While the North Koreans apparently decided closing the complex down served their short term interests, they understood it could not be inactive for long before they suffered fiscally. There is talk now of reopening the KIC, not necessarily to mend diplomatic relations with the South, but because the complex provided NZ$102 million in wages for the North’s regime last year.  

The two Koreas reached a preliminary agreement last week to open the complex after six tedious rounds of negotiations, and only after the South Koreans almost shut down the complex permanently in protest over the dragging talks. Placing something of a dampener on the agreement however is that there is no precise date set for the resumption of operations and Seoul is sceptical about the deal.

Rather than a success in negotiations, reopening the KIC instead points more to North Korea’s struggle for hard currency than anything else. Pyongyang has tried to open other industrial parks in the past but always encountered issues in attracting foreign investors. No investor really wants to inherit the unpredictability of relying on a temperamental regime prone to stopping industrial operations on a belligerent whim.

Pyongyang probably understands this shortcoming - and that in the long term it will be detrimental - but it fits with the regime’s personality to keep the international community guessing about its next move. The KIC will probably remain the only economic access to capitalistic enterprises for the North in at least the foreseeable future, because Pyongyang still has a semblance of control over the status of the complex.


But underlying the success of negotiations is the harsh fact that North Korea relies on foreign aid and enterprises such as the KIC for survival. North Korea has few options of generating foreign capital, largely because it has hermetically sealed itself off from the developed world with controversial weapons programs.

The regime is cripplingly sanctioned because of its stance on human rights, the constant ballistic missile threats to surrounding nations, and their dangerous nuclear armament. Close to 2.4 million people need regular food assistance according to United Nations figures because of these state programs. Reopening the KIC should help the North Koreans to restart the flow of foreign currency, even though most of the wages end up in regime coffers rather than directly with the cheap labour force.

International aid has dried up over the last few years in response to Pyongyang’s controversial nuclear program but the UN is watching closely and will not let the horror of the mid-1990s famine occur again. To assist the present humanitarian situation in the country, the United Nations issued a call mid August to raise NZ$125 million in emergency aid for the impoverished country. This is on top of the NZ$192 million already earmarked for food, health, and sanitation programs.

North Korea’s cooperation in talking with the South has clearly made some progress, but it is important not to assume the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex indicates any changes in Pyongyang’s views about their nuclear program. For the North, it is all about the money.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

China's anti-corruption drive faces serious questions

The Chinese Communist Party will be pleased to see the back of disgraced former high-ranking Chinese politician Bo Xilai. His allegations for bribery, corruption, and abuse of power shocked supporters of the Communist Party last year and cut short a promising career which could have sent Mr Bo all the way into the highest offices in the Politburo Standing Committee.

Convicted politician Bo Xilai at his trial - Businessweek
Even before the new General Secretary of the Communist Party Xi Jinping stepped into power last year, the Bo Xilai trial was a flagship case for China’s anti-corruption drive. The trial itself was probably more interesting for people watching in China, but this does not mean the implications shouldn’t be noted by international observers.

Bo Xilai will be lucky to avoid a death penalty for his actions, but even while he denies all allegations against him he almost certainly will be found guilty of the crimes and sentenced to a hefty prison term.

Mr Bo arrived in a courtroom after a long career of political successes, especially in emphasising the economic viability of the interior in complimenting the success of the coastal export model. But when his wife was convicted of murder his ancillary dealings in corrupt enterprises floated to the surface. The resulting investigation also revealed a power-struggle in the Communist Party rarely seen in public, which at the time, threatened to do significant harm to the Party’s public image.

The message Beijing wishes to convey by convicting Bo Xilai is its seriousness on curbing corruption and elite privilege and to avoid any further rifts in the Communist Party over the direction of the economy. But important questions remain as to how far this politically-motivated campaign can really go.

Simply put, the Communist Party is worried the insidious social costs of corruption will affect not just their reorientation to a more robust investment-driven economy, but could chip dangerously away at the pillars holding up the legitimacy of the Party itself.

This is a scary prospect for the Party. As the Bo Xilai trial already fades from the front pages and the teetering economy regains priority, Beijing must keep the problems of the economy and the Communist Party separate in the minds of ordinary Chinese. Because for a government not burdened by votes, image is everything.

In light of the recent goods quality scuffles with Fonterra in China, and the corruption crackdown on GlaxoSmithKline and other pharmaceutical companies, China’s clean up of the Party will go some way in cohering the current fracturing between economic reformers and conservatives.

Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has prioritised cleaning up corruption from the top and the bottom, calling the policy “attacking the big tiger but not letting the flies escape”.

He encourages people to report crimes by government and local officials: there’s apparently even a hotline for people to call if they spot something they don’t like. But a glaring omission in the current drive is in the judicial system, which is receiving little scrutiny. Instead the campaign is directed at local officials and any high-ranking politician offering sufficient political expediency to Mr Xi’s consolidation efforts.

Dealing with the Bo Xilai scandal in such a very public way will allow the Party to show a visible success story in bringing to justice those at the highest levels of political office. But it is far from clear the Communist Party will have the necessary tenacity to wipe out corruption.

Serious questions remain: is arresting a few top officials enough to distract the public from questioning the Party’s legitimacy? Or will deep structural reforms be needed which may threaten the foundations of the political system but save the economy?

So far, the anti-corruption drive appears to be helping Mr Xi to consolidate control over the Party by making examples of the worst offenders and political enemies. The truth about corruption is that it is a life-blood for the Chinese Government. Xi Jinping will not be able to do much about corruption no matter how much he wants to. But he certainly can make it appear he is addressing the problem, and that could just be enough for the short term.

Acting as rocket-fuel behind the anti-corruption campaign is an approaching demographic squeeze, falling export rates, and a simmering social discontent. From Beijing’s perspective, if corruption continues unabated, it could attract unwelcome criticism of the Party and threaten their legitimacy if jobs and living standards begin to drop away as well.

For Beijing, a few successes here and there will be good for its clean-up drive. But the ramifications of uncovering every skeleton in every closet are far too dangerous, so it is hard to see the campaign reaching too far.

It is all very well to remove a corrupt individual from office and round up groups of similar offenders, but if the measures don’t extend far enough then it begins to look like corruption isn’t the real issue. Saving the Communist Party from a sullied public image is the real problem, especially when its own officials are plastered nightly on court tapes buying million dollar houses on the French Riviera.

After all, if working Chinese feel the drive against corruption represents an opportunity for greater transparency, how long before they demand greater press freedom and begin to question the Communist Party’s narrative? Beijing must carefully manage the campaign to avoid sending it spiralling out of control.



Will the US strike Syrian targets?

The West has warned Syrian rebels to expect a military strike within days, sources said, August 27. The rebels have given the West a list of targets, Reuters reported. United States President Barack Obama believes the Syrian regime should be held accountable for its recent use of chemical weapons, and he will make an informed decision on how to respond in the coming days, according to a statement made August 26 by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

US President Barack Obama weighs military options in
response to recent chemical weapons attacks in Syria
Two months ago a Western-led strike on Syrian military assets seemed unlikely, now, after an admittedly ambiguous chemical weapons attack in Damascus, the US is positioning forces in the region in preparation for an expected limited strike or series of strikes. However, a number of obstacles remain and a lack of clear high-level guidance will limit US intervention efforts.

US President Barack Obama has previously indicated any Syrian chemical weapons use would cross an arbitrary “red line” resulting in US strikes. Regime forces have been suspected of using chemical weapons in the past, but little evidence was found then to warrant military strikes.

US warships have been repositioned in the Mediterranean Sea with the ability to launch Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) against a range of targets in Syria. Four Arleigh Burke Class destroyers - the USS Mahan, USS Ramage, USS Gravely, and USS Barry – will deliver TLAM strikes and Mark 41 (MK 41) missiles as a prelude to any manned aircraft engaging targets over Syria. According to Dietrich Kuhlman’s assessment of Arleigh Burke Class destroyers, there is a total of about 204 TLAM assets currently on station, as well the ability to reload for an indefinite campaign.

Air forces based in Turkey, Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, U.A.E., and Oman can also join any strike. Aircraft types ranging from heavy bombers to fighter-bombers will be included. Overflight requests will need to be guaranteed by surrounding countries.

Alongside these US assets float two aircraft carrier groups in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, each with more firepower than most developed nations. US ballistic missiles submarines can be expected in theatre as well.

A reliable indication of any impending airstrikes is the presence of US Navy E-6B TACAMO (Take Charge And Move Out) aircraft. E-6s have a range of 5,500 miles, have full-spectrum communication capabilities, and can perform the so-called Looking Glass mission to talk to submarines. It can launch commands to ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles) via Airborne Launch Control System, and can perform C3 (Command Control Communication) operations to forces operating in theatre. Several are flying around the world at any time - regardless of conflict status - and always accompany strike aircraft to coordinate attacks between multiple weapons platforms. 

Because of their status, they can be tracked on Planefinder.net using the bogus callsign “GOTO FMS”. 

Considering the order of battle in the region, striking targets in Syria remains a mission only the United States can accomplish effectively. US forces are far and away the most competent military ready to engage Syrian regime forces. British and French military assets are also reported in the region, but a combined strike would be more relevant for any NATO or United Nations post-strike discussion than actually necessary tactically.

Regardless of media reports the situation on the ground in Syria has not changed appreciably in the past few days. The strategic problems which faced the international community at the beginning of the Syrian conflict still exist.

Syrian air defence is robust, redundant and spread strategically over the western regions of the country offering relatively effective protection, the rebel groups are divided without central leadership, Jihadist groups lurk in the shadows waiting for a bigger vacuum, the American stomach for ground occupation is non-existent, and there is no agreement in the international community around if they should strike – let alone how and when.

US Navy Arleigh Burke Class destroyer
Chemical weapons are notoriously difficult to destroy from the air and will almost certainly require ground troops to secure. Blowing chemical weapons up would simply spread the chemicals around, whether undertaken by ground troops or missile strikes. For this reason, the weapons would need to be removed requiring significant logistical resources. 

Even if the situation is taken at face value, there are still a number of objectives US airstrikes could pursue.

They include: deterring further chemical attacks on Syrian civilians, punishing the regime for chemical weapons use, degrading the regime’s ability to deliver chemical weapons, degrade or destroy chemical weapons in known locations, degrade Syrian conventional forces, and also degrade Syrian air defence systems. 

Those options exclude ground-force campaigns. Any build up for a full-scale invasion (which would be necessary to secure Syrian chemical weapons) would take months and would offer little strategic surprise. The quickest mission to secure these weapons would still take up to three or four months, with the calculation for problems increasing with each day spent on the ground. The US has learned many lessons about invasion and occupation over the last decade, but they would still encounter unforeseen obstacles which could tie them down for years.

However, unforeseen consequences and a lack of perfect knowledge is a reality every commander understands. Hitting Syrian regime targets will go some way in re-balancing the battle towards rebel forces, but what then? It’s a wise question, but it is not necessary to know exactly how a conflict will play out or precisely how the fight will end in order to take action. 

The crucial ingredient of starting a military intervention campaign is having a clear mission objective and robust high-level guidance. Removing Syrian President Bashar al Assad is a clear objective, as is stopping him from using more chemical weapons. However, punishing the regime for using the weapons is not a clear objective.

The use of chemical weapons is surely an atrocity. The US has good reasons for building up an ability to respond to the latest weapons use. There are good strategic and political interests for the US to be involved in Syria, or to at least be thinking about intervening. Because the longer the fighting continues in Syria, the more extremists from around the world will join, causing more problems for international stability in the future when those fighters return home with new skills. 

Syrian SAM sites - IMINT & Analysis via Google Earth
Green - SA-6
Violet - SA-5
Blue - SA-3
Red - SA-2
Breaking those militant groups early and discouraging jihadist volunteers, as well as building up popular movements against al Qaeda groups, are just as important as limiting regime use of chemical weapons. Unfortunately, these objectives do not appear to be a high priority for the US administration. 

Mr Obama will have to announce coherent and strategic reasons for striking Syrian targets to give the international community and the American people no doubt as to why their military is being used. The US must dictate a clear understanding of what objectives striking Syria will serve as well as confirming if there is a long-term commitment. 

Punitive strikes in response to an arbitrary “red line” do little to help the rebel cause and cannot take advantage of the opportunities emerging if a more comprehensive intervention is considered. 

Ultimately, placing a “red line” around chemical weapons usage will require Mr Obama to respond in some military capacity, or risk encouraging other countries facing similar US military red line threats to push their boundaries. If the al Assad regime feels it can get away with limited chemical weapons attacks, it may feel encouraged to expand them in the future.

A comprehensive, full-spectrum campaign to secure Syrian chemical weapons is highly unlikely given the incredible logistical demands and necessary buildup time. However, targeted strikes on regime assets could be authorised by the US Defence Department in the coming days. It remains unclear how far and how long these strikes will continue or what the strategic missions will be.


Thursday, 22 August 2013

India's newest ships underline serious remaining obstacles

Two events this month outline India’s growing maritime focus, while soberly reminding the country of the significant obstacles lying ahead in its search for a modern navy.

India launched its first homegrown aircraft carrier and its first nuclear submarine in August, both intended to impress the world – and especially China – by proving India finally has the ability to project force into its near abroad. But so far, China has remained unimpressed – or at least it has publically – and for good reason.

Those joyous events were quickly overshadowed by an accidental explosion on a non-nuclear submarine which killed 18 sailors while the vessel was docked in Mumbai. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged the disaster crushed any celebration around the country’s achievements.

A fire apparently ignited the warheads of two torpedoes, sinking the boat in minutes, while being televised around the world via onlookers’ cell phones. Unfortunately for New Delhi, the accidental sinking of the vessel might have received more international attention than the launching of their two newest ships.

The submarine which sunk was the Sindhurakshak, the most modern of India’s fleet. According to reports, the vessel had just been overhauled and inspected and was considered sea-worthy. So as far as bad publicity goes, there are few things more damaging to a nation’s military image than their equipment failing so spectacularly.

India’s concentration on upgrading its naval capacity from a coastal force to a true blue-water fleet is clearly a work in progress. The two new ships released this month are another certain step in this direction.

China’s naval expansion is a challenge to India’s strategic interests in the Indian Ocean basin and increasing India’s naval capability will help New Delhi to better deter the threat of conflict between the world’s two most populous nations.

If India can bring its new carrier and submarines online within the decade, they could create a proper blue water fleet. India plans to have a fleet of three or four aircraft carriers and several nuclear submarines, but the obstacles of cost overruns, corruption, and technological development are plaguing the program.

For instance, India says their aircraft carrier will only be operational by 2018. But already the ship is four years behind schedule after consistent delays and is only approximately 30% complete. If those delays continue, there is every chance they will miss the 2018 true commission date as well. It is difficult to see why New Delhi felt it important to launch the carrier at such a premature stage.

Projects never quite go to plan, but the new Indian carrier is getting the blunt end of the stick in more ways than one. Every day it spends in dry dock fitting its propulsion system and equipment is another day it won’t be patrolling the seas and supplying crucial carrier experience for pilots and crews.

To cover this gap, New Delhi is refitting its existing carrier to potentially serve for the rest of the decade. More unexpected costs will need to be sunk into this project to maintain Indian presence on the waves, but it doesn’t help their efforts. India is bizarrely already planning for a second new carrier with even greater capabilities without fixing the problems burdening their unfinished ship.

China has derided the new carrier, saying the ship is far from truly Indian because it is using significant portion of components imported from abroad. This is more than slightly ironic given that China’s new aircraft carrier is built from a decommissioned Russian hull.

For countries around India which have bought in to New Delhi’s “Look East Policy”, the delays in the carrier program casts doubt over whether India can live up to its potential and deliver on its security promises. Countries such as Myanmar and Vietnam are looking to India as a counterpoint to China presence in the Indian Ocean Basin.

Beijing’s increasingly well-equipped navy has been sailing further from its home waters, with craft venturing into the Somali waters to assist in anti-piracy missions and in the East China Sea near Japan. While India is not directing its policies against any particular country, at least not publically, members of ASEAN are keen to move closer to India as a strategic partner.

So long as India can overcome its many obstacles glaring down at the naval program, New Delhi might be able to meet the security requirements of its neighbours and completing the group of carriers would give it entry into an exclusive international club of accomplished nations with a competent carrier force. But those obstacles are still significant and India’s navy will remain heavily constrained despite its progress. 

In Syria, fresh claims of chemical weapons attacks

Syrian rebels said August 21 that 635 people were killed in chemical attacks carried out in the suburbs around Damascus, Now Lebanon reported... Other opposition groups claimed even higher casualty figures, including the Syrian National Coalition, which put the number at 1,300...A team of United Nations inspectors are already in Syria looking for evidence of chemical weapons use...The Syrian army calls the charges "totally unfounded"...Western intelligence agencies claimed in June they had evidence of the Syrian regime using chemical weapons, but could not rule out the attacks came from rebel groups...The United States has previously said chemical weapon use would be a “game changer” for the conflict...If the UN inspectors are allowed into the affected suburbs and uncover robust evidence, the US position on intervention may change...Before the Obama administration commits deeper into the conflict, some important questions still need to be asked about why the regime would use weapons so near to UN inspectors, or whether regime artillery bombardments accidentally struck rebel stockpiles of chemical weapons, or whether it was some rebel groups using the weapons in the area...Ultimately, if evidence is discovered proving chemical weapons use, it is uncertain how the UN or the international community will respond.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

New round of Bahrain protests unlikely to destabilise regime

Bahraini police dispersed hundreds of anti-government protesters with tear gas August 14, Reuters reported...No casualties have been reported...The government increased security in an effort to prevent protests and introduced new anti-terror laws after protest planners announced demonstrations months ago...The United States also closed its embassy on August 14 in response to demonstrations...Bahrain is home to the US Fifth Fleet...Though anti-government protests persist, they have not destabilised Bahrain in any significant way...Demonstrations have become increasingly violent as the protests continue, and their tactics will likely become more extreme if it drags on...Bahrain largely escaped the Arab Spring because the monarchy wields relatively legitimate power, as compared to the Egyptian or Syrian regimes...But the protests among Bahrain’s Shiite population have been spurred on by Iran and the success of the Egyptian protest even while Manama refuses to talk to movement leaders...This latest round of demonstrations is unlikely to spiral out of control when the security forces are this well prepared and with the regime crushing all unrest early...Until the protests reach a critical mass in the country, they will remain an important but limited sideshow.

Syrian rebels could threaten Lebanon core

A Syrian National Coalition member has said that Syria's rebels will not rest until Hezbollah is eliminated, Now Media reported August 13...Kamal al-Labwani told reporters at a press conference in Jordan that Hezbollah fought against the Syrian rebels on their territory so the rebels will fight it on its territory, "but not in the time being..."Al-Labwani added that if the Syrian rebels overthrow the regime, Syria and Lebanon will be "hostile states" while Hezbollah dominates Lebanon... Hezbollah's participation in an offensive in the Syrian town of Al-Qusayr prompted concerns the fighting in Syria could spill over into Lebanon...The group’s fighting forces are concentrated in Syria against rebels, leaving sections of the Lebanon core vulnerable to unrest... Tensions and violence are increasing daily in Lebanon as Syrian rebel forces try to split the focus of Hezbollah to weaken the Syrian regime...If Sunni forces from Syria begin to seriously threaten Hezbollah’s interests in Lebanon, the group may be forced to withdraw its troops from Syria...Loyalist forces in Syria would struggle to fill the gap left by Hezbollah should they depart.

New Zealand deploys ships to piracy zones in East Africa

A seven-month deployment of the frigate HMNZS Te Mana left Devonport Naval Base this week to join an international task force providing maritime security in the Gulf of Aden. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key called the mission “important” because New Zealand goods travel through the area. Around 25 different countries participate in similar anti-piracy missions.

The Gulf of Aden has been a hotbed of Somali-based piracy over the past four years. Even though the security situation has seen a sharp decline in ship hijackings over the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 - at least in comparison to the highs of 2011 - piracy remains an expensive and disruptive problem. The war against pirates is being won, but it is not over.

New Zealand’s naval deployment is occurring at a time of relatively low intensity. The International Maritime Bureau reported at the end of 2012 that the number of ships attacked by Somali pirates has dropped to the lowest level in four years. Because piracy has become an essential component of the Somali economy, hijackings will continue. But thankfully for Kiwi ships, incidents will likely be fewer and further between.

For international actors it has become politically and militarily easier to contain the pirates rather than to eliminate them. However, containment is proving to require very high costs for both the international task forces and shipping owners, and it is unclear if many of the participating nations can continue to protect shipping traffic indefinitely.

Pirates targeting shipping traffic transiting the Horn of Africa hold a strategic position along a heavily-used international shipping lane which is unfortunately far outside the natural protection of any competent national power.

With several years of practice sailors, from the US-backed Combined Task Force 151 and EU-backed Atalanta mission, along with unilateral missions of Australia, Iran, China, and New Zealand, have had time to dissect the tactics of pirates and mostly become very efficient at stopping attacks.

China especially has used the missions as an ideal training ground for its crews to better understand the complexities of long-range naval deployment.

Logistics over such huge distances are very difficult and with China’s navy looking for a greater blue-water capability, the chance to learn from experience will prove invaluable. Greater cooperation and interoperability between the various participating maritime nations is also proving to be a positive by-product of the anti-piracy measures.

There has been a lot of success over the past year. International actors have led a convincing assault on the so-called “motherships” to limit the range and effectiveness of pirates. These motherships have extended pirate operational ranges deeper and deeper into the Indian Ocean. They also allowed pirates to make multiple hijackings during one expedition.

But captured Somali pirates insist it is the efforts of the owners of the ships they target which have had the greatest impact in disturbing their hijacking attempts.

Some of the more valuable ships, such as oil tankers and cargo ships with high-value goods are now virtual floating fortresses. Barbed wire prickles over hulls making it difficult for pirates to climb over, and high pressure water hoses are relatively good at non-lethally keeping pirates at bay.

Even more effective at prevention has been the inclusion of highly-trained armed guards. Firefights have been recorded between armed guards and pirates and lethal force is changing the balance. Because of this, Somali pirates are beginning to see the cost-benefit ratio of hijacking ships lean to an unwelcome side as piracy evolves to be more dangerous than ever.

However, stocking a cargo ship with armed guards is a high cost for shipping owners. For some idea on this expense, over 30,000 commercial ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year. According to recent estimates, between 40 and 70% of those ships carry armed guards. And at an average of 10 days per trip with an average cost of US$60,000 per guard, the costs quickly balloon to between US$800 million and US$1.4 billion.

Looking at the sobering figures collected by the One Earth Future Foundation, the cost of preventing piracy is substantially higher than the costs piracy causes to the world economy. The piracy enterprise costs over US$6.6 billion each year, including ransom payments, preventative measures, rerouting ships, and extra fuel. The figure does not include costs to the international counter-piracy missions of which New Zealand is now a part of.

Kiwi ships deployed to the region will assist in maritime security and should help keep the number of successful pirate missions low. However, the threat of piracy will not be eliminated around Somalia in the near future and the international community will continue to prefer a containment strategy.

Dealing with the humanitarian and political dramas on the Somali mainland will be a better long-term fix for the security situation at sea. But this is proving to be easier said than done as the two-decade long civil war shows no sign of bringing the nation together.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Latest Israel-Palestine peace talks unlikely to mend schism

Twenty-six Palestinians imprisoned by Israel were released late August 13 as part of a U.S.-brokered agreement allowing the resumption of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, The New York Times reported…The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been more of a symbol for various political ideologies than a true geopolitical tussle…Releasing the Palestinian prisoners was a prerequisite for both sides to restart negotiations and only indicates conciliatory beginnings rather than advancement in negotiations…Both sides needed to agree to these talks to avoid being the party which failed to respond...Hamas and Fatah are at a significant low point in regional heft and will use the negotiations to leverage their wavering influence…Israel lives in a present reality without its historical enemy threats in both Egypt and Syria and feels more attention can be given to domestic concerns such as the Palestinian issue…However a host of political constraints on each side coupled with mutually exclusive end-goals will prevent these talks from achieving any real success.

Concerns over Asian water scarcity set to worsen

In many parts of the world, freshwater is already a scarce resource. In the Asia Pacific region, even though it has become an economic powerhouse, many countries are under immense strain to appropriately allocate fresh water for their individual industries and population, but also to ensure neighbouring countries are not affected as well.

Considering this planet is practically swimming with over 70 percent of earth covered by water, 98 percent of that fluid is salt water while only 2.5 percent is fresh water. Even more worrying is that according to WHO estimates only 0.4 percent of this water is easily accessible for human consumption, with this number continually dropping as pollution segregates fresh from dirty and the hungry energy industry diverts water for their needs.

Three Gorges Hydroelectric Power Plant - China
In China, according to a current Brookings Institute report, somewhere close to the present equivalent population of the United States lack consistent access to clean drinking water. The story is very similar in India. Over the last 50 years, extraction of groundwater has tripled worldwide, while supplies have remained fairly constant. Replacing groundwater naturally is not a simple task with UNESCO worrying in Asia that it may be depleting faster than it can be replenished.

Aside from the conventional conflicts making headlines throughout the region, many places in Asia share large bodies of water over which there are few concrete, recognised usage laws. Water shortages are becoming routine in China and India. And over 75 percent of countries in Asia lack good water security which could constitute a serious crisis in the future if steps are not taken to improve management of water resources, according to a recent study by the Asian Development Bank.

No matter how one looks at it, the scenario throughout Asia is one of growing water scarcity. As the earth’s human population rises, especially in the Asian landmass, demand already surpasses supply, with even more people expected to join the throngs over the next 50 years. The problem is compounded with the gradual but encouraged shift away from fossil fuels towards alternative energy sources.

To achieve energy independence, many Asian states - at one time with an overabundance of fresh water - are increasingly diverting water from human consumption to feed hungry hydroelectric and coal-fired plants. The overriding factors leading to today’s water scarcity in China and India seem to be the aggressive energy policies and unrelenting focus on ever-expanding economic growth in two of the world’s most populous nations.

Hydroelectric energy might divert rivers and change irrigation patterns downstream, but at least the water eventually flows in fits and starts. Coal plants require water to boil away in steam turbines but need three times as much water as natural gas-fired plants to operate. In China alone, collieries consume over 17 percent of the country’s water supply with India demanding almost as much water for similar projects.

In the next decade, China plans to increase their coal-fired power generation by twice the capacity of its regional rival India. This will please the Australians, but for rural Chinese in the north of the country where almost all of the collieries are based, this will directly affect their access to fresh water and will exacerbate the trend of moving to urban areas as they escape one of the driest regions in the world.

Thankfully for these people, new fossil fuel extraction methods are evolving at rapid rates, but it remains the case that unconventional fuels – such as tar sands and shale gas – are extremely water-intensive. Some embryonic methods of extraction reportedly need significantly less water to function, but it will be years before these techniques are refined enough to replace current processes.

In the south, China has built half of the world’s 50,000 largest hydroelectric dams and continues to funnel resources into building more of these structures along rivers originating in the Tibetan Himalayas. This would be fine if the water flowed into China exclusively, but they don’t. The rivers in question also cascade into the lowlands of southeast Asia and India where tens of millions of people will need to cope with potentially disastrous changes to their fresh water supplies.

The dams China is building will probably not affect downstream nations according to Chinese officials. And it is true that many are run-of-the-river dams which do not rely on reservoirs, instead harnessing water energy in underground tunnels. Other Chinese officials have pointed to these dams actually benefiting lower nations by controlling flood damage during the rainy season.

However, India is largely unconvinced by these arguments. They fear three new dams planned for Chinese Tibet will affect the flow of water to both India and Bangladesh dangerously. New Delhi lodged a diplomatic protest about the development after it discovered the news in the local media, rather than via official channels from Beijing. But because China is in the dominant position with these rivers, Beijing has reportedly ignored the protest.

Tensions over access to Asian fresh water sources are sure to grow in the coming decades as populations increase, economic development sprints ahead, and the continued headwater countries’ lack of interest in talking multilaterally to downstream nations about water-sharing agreements. Although war is unlikely to break out over water shortages, the region is finding a whole new set of problems over something it not long ago took for granted.


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Hezbollah fighters in Syria could undermine political influence in Lebanon

Loyalist forces in Syria have received military and political support from Iran in the shape of thousands of Iranian Republican Guard Corp (IRGC) personnel, but more worryingly for regional stability is the military support from the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah. 

The majority of Hezbollah’s Syrian support is centred around the Homs and Damascus area and includes special forces and regular fighting units. Hezbollah has drawn criticism in Lebanon for participating in Syria from those who saw it just as a popular resistance movement, which could lead to a weakening of its political position in Lebanon.

Hezbollah is a Shiite militant group and Iranian proxy based out of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, formed for the sole purpose of resisting Israel on behalf of Iran. They are the most organised and well-armed of any sectarian militia in Lebanon, even acting as a crucial lynchpin of the Lebanese defence doctrine. Their release into the Syrian conflict points to the critical Iranian strategic and geopolitical necessity of retaining Mr al Assad in power as an ally.

Lebanon is historically, politically, and religiously tied to the fate of Syria. Hezbollah has been a stalwart ally of Syrian President Bashar al Assad following a decades-long legacy of support. As the conflict in Syria drags on with neither side able to decisively defeat the other, Hezbollah has become increasingly involved in Syria as it attempts to ensure its strategic interests. However, their involvement is both raising friction in Lebanon and worrying Hezbollah leaders over just how deep they should commit their forces.

Hezbollah commanders will need to maintain vigilance that they not become over-extended in Syria to the detriment of their position in Lebanon.

Whether lending assistance to Mr al Assad to retain a key partner and thereby weakening Hezbollah’s military and political hegemony in Lebanon is going to be worth the price for the group is so far unknown. But they are trying this option anyway. Given Hezbollah’s impressive military capabilities and fighting experience, there is a good chance they could emerge stronger at the close of this conflict - whatever a conclusion for the Syrian conflict actually looks like. This will worry the group’s historic enemy, Israel, as a stronger more experienced set of Hezbollah fighters returning to Lebanon could destabilise the status quo in regards to defence.

Hezbollah have already led a number of successful - if costly - assaults on entrenched rebel positions over the past month or two. Rebel forces were pushed from their stronghold position in al Qusair in June largely by a concerted regime effort led by Hezbollah and IRGC forces. Hezbollah sustained relatively heavy casualties – relative to their participating numbers – which has cast some doubt on their continued involvement in the civil war. However, with rebel positions remaining within striking distance of Damascus and the Alawite coast, Hezbollah are being retained as a competent force-multiplier and extremely effective fighting group.

Up to one third of Hezbollah’s fighting force has been committed to the war, and there are reports of thousands more fighters training for additional campaigns and potentially up to 4000 reservists. Over 50,000 Hezbollah fighters and support personnel are presently in Syria, according to reports. 

At least five high-level commanders have already been killed during the fighting, as well as hundreds of regular fighters. In Homs area, the elite unit known as the 910 Brigade has been reported to be stationed and active during hostilities, while hundreds of advisors are embedded with Syrian troops across the country.

Special forces from Hezbollah have helped Syrian troops against rebels in Aleppo and Damascus. Hezbollah’s special forces are not being entirely committed to the Syrian conflict because of their importance to any future conflict with Israel.

Hezbollah have employed some parts of their rocket and missile inventory in the conflict, but much of their estimated 50,000 pieces remain in position in southern Lebanon. Some of the group’s more strategic weaponry, such as their collection of Scud and medium-range missiles, remain in bunkers in northern Lebanon or stored along the Litani River and are unlikely to be repositioned toward Syria.

The al Assad regime continues to hold major influence over the domestic politics in Lebanon. Should the Syrian regime stay in power, Hezbollah should be able to maintain its coalition with Shiite, Druze, and Christian partners. However, should the al Assad regime collapse, Hezbollah could find itself staring down the barrel of forcible disarmament as its strongest support line is cut and the militia loses a great deal of its power.

The group is expected to violently resist any disarmament policies. But Hezbollah has the motivation to talk to whatever government is in control in a more conciliatory tone rather than confrontational, should the al Assad regime fall. Coalitions with opposition groups in Lebanon would be preferable for Hezbollah, with violence being a last resort.

Beirut and Hezbollah’s political opponents, such as pro-Syrian opposition elements and Sunni Salafist groups and jihadists, will be watching for any political or military weakness coming from the militant group, with an eye to leverage back political power and away from the Shiia group. Israel also will not miss an opportunity to divide Hezbollah from the Lebanese political state if the group loses strength in any fundamental way.

Should the al Assad regime collapse in Syria, there is a threat of Sunni jihadist groups in Lebanon pivoting towards the country to refocus their militancy in Lebanon while the potentially victorious rebel groups solidify their control over Syria. Depending on the timeline, this event could occur some years down the track, giving the Syrian rebel groups and participating jihadist fighters plenty of scope to develop guerrilla fighting experience and bombing prowess. 

Shiite groups currently protected by Hezbollah would come under increased threat in this scenario causing the Shiia group to deploy its fighters towards Beirut in an attempt to better quell sectarian unrest from a central position. However, there is the potential for this to attract significant international condemnation considering how close it would resemble a Hezbollah-initiated coup.

Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has caused great damage to its image as a popular resistance movement against Israel. The current stream of Sunni unrest spreading throughout the region will undermine the group’s position in Lebanon if this discontent bubbles over. But now that Mr al Assad’s regime is looking slightly more in control of its stronghold positions in Syria, Hezbollah could become emboldened at home and look to deal with the developing security and political obstacles in Lebanon.

However, in the long term, and regardless of the military conclusion in Syria, Hezbollah fear their ability to rearm and rebuild critical infrastructure will be severely weakened. The situation in Syria is forcing the group to rethink how it will receive material from Iran if logistic routes overland cannot be secured. 

Any reduced ability to replenish arms will affect Hezbollah’s political standing in Beirut by reducing its military deterrent. Without the ability to replenish Hezbollah’s troops and missile supply in the event of another war with Israel, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) could be encouraged to conduct pre-emptive strikes, both overt and covert, on the group’s arsenals.

Friday, 9 August 2013

AMISOM troops clash with al-Shabaab fighters as Kismayo prepares for local governance

At least 24 al Shabaab militants were killed when African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops and local forces foiled an al Shabaab plot in the southern city of Afmadow on August 8...Just over a week ago, on July 27, a car loaded with explosives rammed into the gates of an office housing Turkish Embassy staff in Mogadishu in a suicide attack...The attack killed three Somalis and wounding nine others, witnesses and police said. Al Shabaab rebels claimed responsibility for the attack...Al Shabaab attacks have declined recently with softer targets being chosen due to an increase in AMISOM security operations... Security operations in Mogadishu have enabled the fledgling government to expand control of the capital...While fighting still occurs regularly between AMISOM and al Shabaab, AMISOM commanders are in discussion with local Somali warlords in the southern port city of Kismayo to establish greater local control in Somalia......It remains an imperative for AMISOM troops to hand control to the interim Somali government, but it remains unclear how much power Mogadishu truly has over the nation...Al Shabaab have largely melted into the north of Somalia and are declining decisive combat with AMISOM forces...It is unclear whether the recent security gains will continue once AMISOM wind down their presence in the troubled country. 

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Syrian War Update: Regime obstacles in advances against rebel forces

As the Syrian war develops into the third quarter of 2013, a number of trends are being reinforced which appear to be affecting the conflict in important ways. External factors are changing the combat environment for both sides due to an exhaustion of resources from domestic sources. Foreign government support is perpetuating the conflict but neither the regime nor the rebel groups are gaining enough ground to force the other into capitulation.

A Syrian rebel fighter holds his position in the
southern Syrian town of Maaret al-Numan - (AFP)
Despite the rebel advances over the past few months, regime forces are still holding the most important section of Syria. Rebel blocking positions - reinforced by captured regime weapons - coupled with increasing amounts of arms supplied by Western governments will continue to frustrate regime forces into the closing stages of the year.

While loyalist troops have been unable to press their advance and retake the key city of Aleppo in the north, the regime does have the momentum to undermine rebel positions if it can maintain its supply routes and hold onto the Syrian core. Even with recent rebel battlefield successes in Homs and Latakia, Syrian President Bashar al Assad is closer to tipping the balance towards his loyalist forces as rebel momentum in the far south begins to show signs of faltering.

War update

Syria has effectively been split into three pieces over the past two years of fighting. Syrian loyalist forces continue to hold key regions in the south of the country, leaving areas in the north and east largely ungoverned by Damascus and in the hands of sectarian militants and other rebel groups. The regions can be retaken in the future; it is the core which demands regime troops’ attention.

The Syrian provinces considered of the utmost importance for Mr al Assad extend in an arc from Damascus in the south, through Homs and towards Latakia on the Mediterranean coast. The regime considers this region their homeland, and many of their ethnic Alawite kinsfolk live along this corridor.

Aside from this corridor, two other distinct sections in Syria have been carved out by conflict. One of these regions, controlled by the various rebel groups, cuts a chunk of Syria from Idlib and Aleppo provinces in the north running south towards the Euphrates River on the Iraqi border. Over this border, rebel groups and Sunni al-Qaeda-affiliated militants have been moving weapons and smuggling goods to fund the Syrian rebel groups.

The porous Syria-Iraq border has also seen Sunni militant groups infiltrating Iraq to break Iraqi stability over the past few months by conducting terrorist attacks on Shiite targets. This section of Syria is now completely beyond Damascus’ control and has been for almost a year. Even Baghdad struggles to influence those vast stretches of desert, leaving it almost entirely in the hands of Syrian rebels.

The third section of Syria is the isolated northeastern triangle where Syria’s Kurdish community are governing the land in a semi-autonomous fashion under heavy surveillance by Turkish security services. The Kurds have committed alliances with neither of the Syrian belligerents slugging out the conflict in the country’s south. Kurdish neutrality does not seem to be bothering Damascus at the moment. However, the temporary governance of their traditional lands is not expected to become permanent.

This is all to say that Syria as viewed on an average world map - with demarcated international borders and recognised towns and cities - is simply not the reality any more. The country has split along distinct sectarian lines, and each day those lines shift as if nudged by the desert winds. Mr al Assad may still call himself the President of Syria, but as pointed out in a previous analysis on this site, he is better described today as Syria’s most powerful warlord.

Syria has fractured into three regions over the past year
Those of Mr al Assad’s countrymen who have taken up arms against him control a fair chunk of Syrian lands, but are nowhere near as powerful as they need to be if they wish to oust him from his Damascus stronghold. While rebel groups are still unable to coalesce around a single unified entity - the main reason international recognition for the rebels is still lacking - they are nevertheless receiving small-arms and other weapons from foreign benefactors as diverse as the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

Syrian rebels were pushing south in a number of places last month, using captured regime weapons as loyalist forces retreated to better-defended sanctuaries. Several rebel units have released videos of these captured arms, including French MILANs and Russian 9K111 Fagots, 9M113 Konkurs and 9M113 Kornets. Some of these weapons are powerful and effective anti-armour guns. Regime forces now face greater risk of interdiction along logistical supply routes if rebel forces can bring those weapons to bear. The rebels also have been receiving anti-tank guided missiles from abroad which will cause regime troops to think twice before moving their T-72 main battle tanks and armoured vehicles into built-up towns.

It is already clear Syrian rebels have quickly employed these weapons on various parts of the battlefield. Reports indicate August 6 that rebels with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, along with other Syrian rebel groups, have taken control of the Minnigh air base, a key facility in the province of Aleppo, after a months-long battle against Syrian regime forces. Two days later on August 8, the Tahrir al-Sham rebel brigade, a unit of the Free Syrian Army, claims it attacked the motorcade of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Fortunately for the regime, a statement by the brigade declared Mr al Assad was not hit, but that based on sources within the regime, there were casualties.

However, despite the captured weapons and foreign arms assistance, rebel groups are still heavily outgunned and face an uphill struggle. Regime forces are still receiving weapons from both Iran and Russia, with neither government willing to respond to international calls to remove their support of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

The Syrian airforce and significant groups of armour continue to pound rebel positions in the north of the country. On August 7 at least 62 Syrian rebels were killed during a dawn ambush by Syrian regime forces. The ambush occurred near Adra, a town east of Damascus. Syrian state news agency SANA did not report how many rebels were killed but said they were from the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front.

There also remain consistent rumours that rebel groups could be receiving man-portable air-defence weapons (MANPADS) from Western nations, alongside anti-tank weapons, such as the 9K33 Osa surface-to-air missile systems. Internet videos of MANPADS being used to interdict regime rotary wing aircraft appear to be changing Syrian airforce approach patterns to higher altitudes to avoid attracting these SAMs. However, such weapons are difficult to maintain and specifically mentioned in U.S. and British intelligence reports as the least desirable weapons-system to supply to Syrian rebel groups over fears they could spread around the adjoining region and fall into the hands of terrorist groups.

So long as Syrian President Bashar al Assad retains control over the core Alawite regions and maintains protected transport routes to the coast, he will have the strategic upper hand. Regaining control of the north and east of Syria will be a gradual, crawling objective which his regime forces can chip away at over time. Likewise, rebel positions in the north and east are similarly well-insulated from regime control and as long as rebel groups can keep from internecine fighting, they too will simply need to chip away at regime-controlled territory.

China and Japan's competition for influence over ASEAN

There are many rapidly changing dynamics in play in East Asia. The options for monitoring range from the stumbling American “pivot” to flashpoint maritime security spats between almost every nation in the region.
But one of the more interesting, and ultimately important, interactions is the competition for influence between Japan and China over the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In a very real way, the ASEAN states are a collection of some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. According to a recent report, intra-regional trade between the ASEAN states more than doubled from NZ$177 billion in 2004 to just over NZ$410 billion in 2011.

There are still significant trade barriers yet to be smoothed over, but the combining thread points to a region growing in riches and appreciably increasing its standards of living.

ASEAN's 10 member states are home to about
600 million people across Southeast Asia - (Photo:Reuters)
ASEAN is now Japan’s second largest trading partner, collecting over NZ$311 billion in total trade in 2011. The group of nations also receives the greatest amount of investment out of Japan, spurred on by Mr Abe’s drive for deeper economic integration in East Asia.

Both China and Japan have noticed the opportunities in the region. Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has just finished a concerted tour of three of ASEAN’s heavyweights: Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore.

His goal was both to strengthen the various existing trade interactions with Japan while stressing their mutual strategic relationships, but also to leverage the current regional distrust with China.

Mr Abe’s recent diplomatic exploration in the ASEAN countries comes on the back of China’s slow down from their giddy heights of double-digit growth rates throughout the early 21st century.

China still has plenty of cash lying around for investment in the Asia Pacific, and there are few sane countries which would refuse the offer. But the continuing clashes in the crowded East Asian sea lanes are pushing ASEAN nations away from cooperation with China and further into the welcoming arms of Japan if Beijing is not careful.

This is a microcosm of a larger picture emerging in the East Asia economic region. As China slows, it is Japan which is looking stronger by the year, and that is a fascinating development. It would have been a brave soul to venture such a forecast twenty years ago.

Japan still has a laundry list of economic and political problems it needs to address, but the Japanese economy is very well placed for a return to economic dynamism in the next few decades.

But it is not just the potential for a continued rise in trade between ASEAN states and Japan which is catching the eye of many of those smaller Asian states. After all, ASEAN trade with China still reached an enormous NZ$500 billion record in 2012. And the last thing the ASEAN states need is to alienate or frustrate their Chinese trading partner.

From an ASEAN perspective, courting both nations will benefit the trading bloc, but they will need to tread a fine line. Some members are cautioning against turning entirely away from China despite the security tensions, but this mindset is getting more difficult to foster.

Those security issues are the very visceral reason the ASEAN states were happy to receive Mr Abe last month.

Japan’s navy is modernising faster than almost any other maritime nation on earth and offers the ASEAN trading group an alternative strategic benefactor to counter Chinese movements, especially since the United States are increasingly unwilling to involve themselves in security matters.

Mr Abe even mentioned on his recent tour that he was “delighted” that Japan could participate in ensuring the “freedom of navigation on the seas”. Given his tour’s relative success, there appears to be growing support in East Asia for Japan to provide the muscle in countering the growing Chinese capabilities.

China, for its part, is also recognising the need to talk to the ASEAN states, rather than relying on its coast guard and navy to intimidate its neighbours and leverage trade advantages. The smaller states do not wish to scare China away, but at the same time are worried about China’s expansion.

To go some way towards rectifying this, the Philippines and Vietnam sat down with China last week to negotiate a different method of interaction, but the talks were frosty at best.

Over the past few years, China has played off the individual ASEAN states against each other. This has distracted the nations from truly organising a coherent response to the issue. Japan is moving in to bring some semblance of connection.

As things presently stand, despite its size, China is falling behind Japan in the race for influence. Japan offers less in the way of trade perks for ASEAN (although still significant) as compared to China, but the trade-off benefit of a strong military counter to China’s expansion is an important reason for ASEAN states to balance their interests with both countries.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

U.S. closes 21 embassies, issues travel alert following “credible” al Qaeda threat

There is no evidence of a threat to any EU presence in the Middle East, a spokesman for the European Commission said Aug. 2... The United States is planning to close several of its embassies in the Middle East on Aug. 4 due to unspecified security concerns, and the EU is taking precautions with its delegations in the region, the spokesman said..."Unusual amounts of chatter" were intercepted, according to U.S. State Department sources, suggesting the possibility of an imminent Al Qaeda attack in the region...The current expectation is an event may occur sometime in August and could include attempts to kidnap U.S. citizens...Among the countries where U.S. diplomatic missions will close are Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh...Issuing public warnings can alert allies and deter militants by seeding doubt in their minds...Closing multiple embassies could indicate a lack of actionable intelligence, or an unspecified fix on attack target, or act as a distraction ploy...After the attacks at Benghazi, the U.S. is hedging by issuing early warnings to avoid being caught off guard again.

Friday, 2 August 2013

U.S. to limit drone missions

United States President Barack Obama has a timeline for ending the U.S. program of airstrikes by unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a televised interview Aug. 1 following talks with the Pakistani government, Reuters reported...The program will likely end, hopefully soon, because the United States has eliminated most of the threats, Kerry said...Shortly after Kerry's interview, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said that the United States would not deprive itself of a tool to fight a threat if it arises, Foreign Policy reported...The U.S. is correcting its path after a decade of targeted strikes by scaling back drone flights...Moving away from drones as a one-size-fits-all tool reflects both their effectiveness and the natural evolution of the global battlefield as high-value-targets become scarcer and foreign governments push back...Pakistan has resisted the ongoing use of drones over its airspace for many years and worry continued use could destabilise the country...The U.S. needs Pakistan to be amenable to cooperation in a post-U.S./ISAF reality in Afghanistan, removing drones will encourage greater bilateral cooperation.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Arms smuggling another reason to doubt North Korean sincerity

Panamanian investigators discovered two MiG-21 fighters, 15 engines for MiG-21 fighter jets and five military vehicles in the cargo of a seized North Korean freighter Chong Chon Gang carrying arms from Cuba, Reuters reported July 31...Inspectors also uncovered two SA-2 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), two SA-3 SAMs, and nine missiles "in parts and spares,"... The ship was seized July 16...Pyongyang has been known to assist pariah regimes in the past and the freighter likely found assistance from Cuba...Unsurprisingly, shipping such denied weapons questions Pyongyang seriousness about negotiating peacefully...While the discovered arms on the North Korean-flagged ship are obsolete tactically, the smuggling of such weapons deeply threatens international security...The discovery will increase scrutiny on the hermetic regime and could limit any planned easing of sanctions on North Korea.