The View From Singapore

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‘Too big to fail’ is a phrase which gained mainstream popularity during the late 2000s financial crisis. It was used to describe a business that had become so large that should it fail, the resulting ripple effect would be disastrous to the economy. In the past two months, the phrase has been batted around by many of my peers, politicians, the talking heads on the cable news channels, and political scientists around the world. The Singapore summit between President Trump, and Kim Jong Un  has been labeled, fairly or not, ‘too big to fail.’ There is some truth to the label for the summit, however, not in the manner that many people would think.

To borrow another phrase, the outlook of most observers, and journalists can best be described as ‘too ignorant to comprehend.’ It is generally understood that the stakes are incredibly high for the summit scheduled to begin here in less than twenty-four hours. Identifying just what those stakes include is where the trouble begins. Journalists, as well as nearly everyone else, continually overlook the reality that unless an agreement is reached on eventual North Korean denuclearization, the US-North Korea standoff is likely to escalate. The ripple effect of a failed summit could very well lead to US military action to neutralize the North’s nuclear weapons in coming months.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a clear and present danger to the United States. The singular purpose of this summit, contrary to what is said in front of the cameras, has always been removing nuclear weapons from Pyongyang’s control. If it turns out to be impossible to do through diplomacy, negotiation, and economic incentive, the US has to consider a kinetic alternative.

To be sure, nobody wants that to happen. Unfortunately, the desires of peaceful people around the world pale in comparison to the crucial interests, and security concerns of sovereign nation states.

President Trump has said that the Singapore meeting will be a one-shot deal for North Korea. Let’s hope Kim Jong Un will understand this and negotiate in good faith.

Thirty-six hours from now we will have a fairly good take on whether or not the summit was successful. In short, a successful summit will see concrete steps towards denuclearization laid down. An unsuccessful meeting places all parties back at square one with little incentive to try the negotiation route again.

Monday 14 May, 2018 Update: Gaza Explodes

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Gaza exploded in violence, and blood today when a protest by Palestinians turned into a mass attempt by thousands of people to cross the border fence separating Gaza from Israel. Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas, and rifle fire in an effort to prevent the Palestinians from entering Israel. Monday’s clashes and casualties have made it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 Gaza war.  The death toll stands at 58 and is expected to rise, with over 1300 men, women, and children injured to one degree or another.

Israel defended its actions, claiming it opened fire to maintain control of its border, and to prevent Hamas from using the protest as a distraction to filter operatives across the border and launch attacks on the Israeli side. Israel, of course, has the right to defend its borders from outside aggression. Hamas is responsible for launching dozens of attacks against Israel throughout the years. The Islamist militant organization controls governance in Gaza, and has a major influence over the Palestinian authority. Hamas is also backed in large part by Iran, making the true motivation behind today’s protest suspect, given what has been happening between Iran and Israel in recent weeks.

Monday’s protest in Gaza was the latest in a series of demonstrations over the last seven weeks to protest Israel’s economic blockade against Gaza. Meanwhile, on the West Bank thousands of protesters came out to demonstrate against today’s  formal opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. Relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem has caused a wave of anger from Palestinians, and many Arabs in the region.

NATO Slow In Waking Up to the Russian Military Threat

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Contrary to what its press releases, and statements by alliance officials proclaim, NATO has been playing catchup to Russia in the military arena since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Instead of taking steps which would seize the initiative from Moscow and serve to dictate the flow of events, the alliance has been doing the exact opposite. It is no secret that NATO’s options are limited. After all, it is a defensive alliance in title, and purpose, having been created  as a counterweight to the expansive policies and actions of the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War revamped NATO’s priorities and mission. Western Europe no longer needed defending to the degree that it had from 1949 to 1991. Peacekeeping in the Balkans, and an expanding role in the Global War on Terror defined NATO over the next twenty three years. During that time, the once massive military infrastructure that had been created to challenge Soviet military power was downsized, or dismantled, and largely forgotten.

As Russia began emerging as a viable military threat in 2014, NATO was slow to react. New missions, and duties were not provided with the necessary support and command infrastructures. During the Cold War years, every military unit assigned to NATO belonged to a respective parent command, was keenly aware what its role and mission would be in a time of conflict, and practiced incessantly to master that role if the balloon ever went up. In recent times this has not been the case. Ground, air, and naval units have been tagged for missions they’ve never previously undertaken or trained for, with little or no support from the alliance.

Now, as 2017 is nearing an end, NATO looks eager to start rectifying the command dilemma. Since November, the alliance has been working on a plan to stand up an entirely new naval command, likely to be labeled the North Atlantic Command. Russian naval activity in the Atlantic has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years. The latest concern is Russian submarine activity around undersea data cables in the North Atlantic. The importance of these cables cannot be overstated. They carry nearly all of the communications on the Internet. Cutting them would bring the web to a crashing halt. Tapping them would provide Moscow with valuable insights on global internet traffic.

This activity, as well as other maneuvers by Russian attack submarines is compelling NATO navies to refocus on Anti-Submarine Warfare, or ASW as it is commonly labeled. There has been little, if any emphasis on ASW since the Cold War ended. There was little need. For most of the 90s and 00s, Russian subs rarely ventured out into open ocean. Since 2014, however, Russian sub activity has been on the rise, ops tempos have increased dramatically, and new subs are coming on line at a rapid pace.

In early 2018 it will be useful to take a detailed look at how NATO intends to deal with the growing Russian threat at sea, as well as in the air, and on land. Although the attention of the world will continue to be focused mainly on what’s happening in North Korea, the chill in US-Russia relations, and recent moves concerning the situation in Ukraine suggest  a flare up in Eastern Europe or at sea between NATO and Russian forces is very possible.