sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Friday, April 7, 2017

Geopolitical View

It's been a busy week for those of you who are watching what's going on internally and externally. I'm not going to tie it all in a bow, but let's look at some of the more interesting things that are going on internationally

The Norks

The North Koreans seem very unsure of US and allied intentions. Alternatively, the rhetoric suggests some leaders are looking for a reason to attack. Three statements are uncharacteristic of a Foreign Ministry memorandum and are worth highlighting.
  • The first is the statement that the warning is issued to the US itself. That means the North Koreans want the US to understand that they will attack US territory.
  • The second statement is the stated purposes of a war. One is to remove US bases and the second is to reunify the peninsula. Kim Jong Un has revived the war of national reunification theme. He and his cronies apparently do not consider a new war to be a war of survival for North Korea, but an opportunity to achieve what Kim’s father and grandfather failed to do—reunite Korea. This is delusional thinking, if it accurately reflects his view.
  • The third statement is that the North would fight a precision war with its missiles and only attack US and Allied bases. The missile launches during the past 15 months suggest the North Koreans have no justification for any confidence in the accuracy of their missiles. This statement is risible.

Ballistic Missile Launches in 2016
            Missile                                                Numbers Launched                                    Numbers Successful
Scud
1
1
Rodong MRBM
6
5
Musudan MRBM
7
2
SLBM
2
1
Total
16
9

The Strategic Force had a 56 percent successful launch rate.

North Korea already has launched eight missiles this year.

Ballistic Missile Launches in 2017
          Missile                                                  Numbers Launched                                    Numbers Successful
Scud
1
0
Pukguksong-2 MRBM
1
1
Musudan  MRBM
5
3
U/I MRBM
1
0
Total
8
4

The Nork Strategic Force has a 50 percent successful launch rate in 2017 to date.

The statement about targeting also seems to hint at a belief that a war might be limited in some fashion. No serious observer can hold that view.

Philippines and China

President Duterte has decided to fortify Philippine-claimed islands in the Spratly Island chain. He said he might fly to Pagasa/Thitu Island, which has an airstrip, to raise the Philippine flag.
Duterte said, "Even those, those vacant islands that are considered ours, let's live there." "It's like we're all competing to take these islands. And what's ours now at least, let's take it and make a strong point there that this is ours." He said the Philippines should "fortify" its territory. We must build bunkers or houses there and make provisions for habitation."

President Duterte appears to have had an epiphany about Philippine claims in the Spratly Islands and to seabed areas off the northeast coast. It is possible that Philippine Congressional impeachment articles for alienating Philippine national territory persuaded him to reconsider his position on claims.

His orders will cause new strain in relations with China because China claims all the islands the Philippines claims.

_________________

Syria

I stand by my suspicion that the Syrian Air Force hit a rebel weapons cache and the GB/Sarin release that followed was the result of destroyed chemical warfare weapons that the rebels held.

Russian Comment

On 6 April, the defense ministry spokesman, Major General Konashenkov said, "According to data from the Russian means of objective monitoring of airspace, Syrian aircraft carried out an airstrike in the eastern outskirts of Khan Shaykhun on the terrorists' large ammunition depot and accumulation of military hardware. From that very big arsenal, the militants supplied ammunition with chemical weapons to Iraqi territory." 

The statement by General Konashenkov confirms that the Russians at least consulted their military staff on the ground in Syria, who control the airspace over Syria. Konashenkov confirmed that Syrian aircraft did conduct an airstrike at Khan Shaykhun. There is no comparable information from Western nations.

This is the first piece of credible evidence about the airstrike because it is an admission against Russian interest. The claims of the rebels are tainted, as evidence, by their self-interest. Much turns on the existence of a rebel weapons depot in Khan Shaykhun, which the rebels have not denied.

Cause and Effect

It is premature to make firm judgments about the ripple effects of this attack, which is the first deliberate US attack against Syria. Some opine that there will be many and they will be far reaching. 

This attack will not decide the outcome of the Syrian civil war, but it will affect it and many other national security issues.

One immediate concern is Syrian retaliation. The Asad government will try some form of revenge. That could take the form of shooting advanced air defense missiles at US aircraft flying from Incirlik; harassing attacks at US-occupied airfields in northern Syria or accidental/on purpose attacks against US military personnel at Tabqa and other locations. They'll be standing next to Russians when they do it and that presents problems for the US.

The Syrians will take their time in retaliating. Increased provocations along the Golan Heights might be one outlet for Syrian outrage.

Then there is is the Russian loss of face. This attack shows the limits of Russian power in Syria against a genuine great power. The Russians could not prevent the US attack and could not protect Syria from it, had they tried. President Putin considers President Asad expendable. What is not expendable is the image of Russia’s re-emergence as a great power that he has cultivated so carefully.  

As is the customary practice of Russian intelligence agencies and national security experts during a crisis, they will be seeking opportunities to convert adversity into advantage at US expense.

Iran also will be embarrassed by the attack because it also could not defend its ally. This limited US attack showed that the Syrian armed forces could easily have been destroyed long before the Russian intervention, if Western leaders had the will. The five years of civil war was avoidable. The Iranians might worry about the return on their investment in blood and treasure in Syria.

The timing of this attack during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping projects the impression that President Xi was informed and posed no objection. The two presidents dined while the missiles were flying towards Syria. 

There is a longstanding connection between North Korea and Syria.

North Koreans built the first Syrian Scud missile installations and other military equipment. They also helped construct a nuclear reactor in eastern Syria that the Israelis bombed and destroyed in 2007. 

North Korean leaders will understand that a US attack on Syria sends a warning message to North Korea. North Korea will display solidarity with the Syrian government.


6 comments:

  1. My thoughts are that the gas used came from Iraq before the fall of Hussein.

    It took us roughly 6 months to put together a coalition before boots were on the ground.

    I have always felt that gave Hussein plenty of time to move his WMDS to Syria. Why they were used niw, I have no idea.

    Appreciate your views on all of this, and the update. We are on the road for a couple of days. Hope you all have a blessed weekend.

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    1. Enjoy your trip, LindaG. We expect pictures.

      The Syrians started out with East German (DDR) chemical weapons plants in the 60's, and had a robust program with the intent to use them on Israel. The Israelis said they'd turn Syria into a sea of radioactive glass and Haffez Assad backed down, but they kept the gas. Some of it might have come from Iraq. I can't say. But the Syrians had a substantial supply of GB, and I suspect that we didn't get it all with this strike.

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  2. The OPCW https://www.opcw.org/ said in 2014 that Syria had abandoned their chemical weapons to the international effort to remove them.

    Someone did not do a proper job then.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, those weapons inspectors are thorough... They go where the Syrians take them and inspect what they're told to inspect.

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  3. If Duarte DOES reinforce, it's going to get real interesting...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, the Chinese egg is beginning to crack.

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