A Look at the Week Ahead: Iran and Saudi Arabia

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As Lebanon appears as to be shaping up as the next battleground in the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional hegemony, the next two weeks will be an opportune time to examine the ongoing cold war between the two powers. Last Saturday’s political drama in Riyadh and the subsequent rise of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has changed the nature of the geopolitical duel. With Iran’s arc of influence expanding at an alarming rate, MbS has convinced King Salman, his father and the Saudi king, that the time to confront Iran is now.

As Iranian influence has expanded, Saudi Arabia’s recent power moves in the region have been less than successful, mostly owing to ham-fisted execution. The blockade against Qatar is a shining example. The Saudi missteps are leaving Iran an opportunity to tip the balance of power in its favor permanently. Before that can happen, the Saudis have opted to move in a manner which runs a risk of escalation, and potentially direct conflict with Iran. Time is not a friend for Riyadh at the moment and could explain why King Salman was so willing to grant his son a mandate to deal with Iran in a new way.

I hope everyone is enjoying the weekend.

 

 

 

 

Thursday 7 July, 2016 Update: Warsaw Summit Begins Friday

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*Note: This update will be shorter than usual. Apologies*

On Friday, the NATO summit begins in Warsaw, Poland. It might not be overly dramatic to describe the upcoming meeting as the most important gathering of alliance leaders since the end of the Cold War. The timing is not coincidental. NATO summits do not occur at regular intervals, but when there are important matters to discuss. The summit comes at a moment when Europe is unsettled to say the very least.  ISIS and the refugee influx will be discussed and NATO’s role in each debated. However, Russia will be the primary topic of conversation this weekend in Warsaw.

It has been over two years since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the beginning of War in Donbass. Since then, the relationship between NATO and Russia has gone from tense to almost frigid. The theme of this year’s summit will be unity. NATO will hammer out the details and agreements that will allow the placement of prepositioned material at locations in Eastern Europe, ready to be used in the event of a crisis. The authorization of a 4000-man strong Baltic force will also come during the summit. The fact that the summit is being held in Warsaw is no coincidence either. Call it symbolic of NATO’s shift eastward over the last two years.

NATO needs to be prepared for how Russia responds. Moscow will not stand by idle as more troops are committed to areas adjacent to its borders. The shape that Putin’s countermove will take remains to be seen.

We will take a look at what comes out of Warsaw and discuss it in more detail later on in the weekend.

 

Putin And US/NATO Missile Defense Part 1

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The Russian populace has traditionally embraced xenophobia. For centuries they have generally viewed their nation as one being besieged by aggressive, opportunistic outsiders, eager to corrupt, pillage and destroy their land. History has supported this position. Russia, in spite of its colossal size and ability to absorb immense amounts of damage, has been invaded many times throughout the centuries. Mongols, Napoleon, Hitler, even the Swedes have all invaded Russia throughout the centuries. Napoleon and Hitler came dangerously close to succeeding. The Mongol hordes did succeed, ushering in an age of Tartar rule and the eventual division of Eastern Slavs into three separate nations.

With these examples in mind, it should come as no surprise that today the majority of Russians believe that the United States is deliberately attempting to encircle, weaken and possibly even destroy Russia. They view the expansion of NATO and the West’s commitment to democracy as a cloak, hiding US ambitions to increase its own power and leverage in an area that is Russia’s own sphere of influence. This view is shared by many in the Kremlin, especially Vladimir Putin. Russia’s actions in Georgia, and the Ukraine, have at least partly stemmed from the concern about NATO’s continuing encroachment on Russia’s western frontier. These actions have produced consequences of their own. The US military is re-pivoting to Europe and NATO is steadily positioning more military assets close to Russia’s borders. To put it another way, Russia is in the midst experiencing the security dilemma; the actions it is taking to increase its own security have led to its neighbors responding with similar measures. The primary danger arising from this type of situation is that it can bring about unintended consequences such as increased tension and conflict.

Now, Russia has to contend with a US/NATO a missile defense system in close proximity to its borders The appearance of Aegis Ashore in Romania did not come as a surprise, at least. The United States first began exploring the idea of basing a missile defense system in Eastern Europe back in the early 00s. Russia’s concerns had been made clear early on: a US missile defense shield in Eastern Europe represented a threat to Russia’s nuclear forces. The US assured Moscow that the purpose of a defensive system was to defend against ballistic missiles launched from the Middle East. Moscow remained skeptical and unsatisfied with this reasoning. US efforts to build and field the system moved forward with Russia’s concerns and views being summarily ignored and dismissed by two successive administrations in Washington.

Considering Moscow’s perception of US and NATO strategic intentions in the region, the Kremlin cannot simply ignore the existence of the system. This situation is somewhat different from NATO’s reinforcement in the east; a more direct, and permanent threat after a fashion. Aegis Ashore undermines Russia’s own strategic objectives in Eurasia, as well as its desire to achieve hegemony in its historic sphere of influence. Vladimir Putin’s dilemma will be in determining an appropriate response. The avenues available are paved with uncertainty, variables and potentially peril.

In Part 2 of this article, some of the options available to Putin will be laid out and examined. It will be posted Tuesday (Sorry, scheduling conflict, I need a bit more time) morning. Until then, enjoy the weekend.

Wargames: Joshua’s Nuclear War Scenarios 100-119

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We’re getting towards the end of the list unfortunately. After this, only one set remains.

  • LIBYAN ACTION– Think Gulf of Sidra in the 1980s. In 1981, US Navy F-14s shot down two Libyan fighters during a period of heightened tension. In 1986, US and Libyan air and naval forces mixed it up and later, USAF and US Navy aircraft bombed targets in Tripoli and Benghazi. In 1989, Navy F-14s shot down Libyan fighters again. Any of these incidents could’ve spilled over into a much larger conflict.

 

  • PALESTINIAN TACTICAL– What if the First Intifada had gone beyond protests and riots? What if Syria had contributed equipment, weapons and advisors to the PLO and the uprising took the form of a more organized and deadly offensive against Israel?

 

  • NATO ALTERNATE– Confusing title. A Soviet move against NATO using an alternative to its war plans or vice versa?

 

 

  • CYPRUS MANEUVER– Cyprus was a bastion of instability from the 1974 coup onward into the 80s. If either Greece or Turkey had moved unilaterally to take over the island there it could have escalated quickly and gone in a direction that nobody had thought possible.

 

  • EGYPT MISDIRECTION– An Egyptian move against Libya goes awry and brings in Soviet assistance for its Libyan allies.

 

  • BANGLADESH THRUST– In the late 1970s, when this list was originally put together (years before the movie) Bangladesh was in a period of political disarray. Ziaur Rahman came to power in 1979 and was a popular president. It’s not inconceivable to imagine that Rahman, had he not been assassinated in 1981, could have prepared and executed an offensive against one of the nation’s South Asian neighbors.

 

  • KENYA DEFENSE– Kenya finds itself under attack by an external or internal enemy.

 

  • BANGLADESH CONTAINMENT– Unlike the Bangladesh scenario previous, this one revolves around containing an aggressive and outward looking Bangladesh.

 

  • VIETNAMESE STRIKE– Vietnam moves against one of its neighbors.

 

  • ALBANIAN CONTAINMENT– This one is a bit hard to swallow; Hoxa and Albania’s aspirations needing to be checked.
  • GABON SURPRISE– Omar Bongo was unpredictable and deadly. He could have taken Gabon over the edge at any time.

 

  • IRAQ SOVEREIGNTY– An internal uprising (Iranian backed?) against the Ba’ath party and Saddam Hussein.

 

  • VIETNAMESE SUDDEN– Similar to STRIKE, only faster

 

  • LEBANON INTERDICTION– This one actually became reality. Think Lebanon 1982-834

 

  • TAIWAN DOMESTIC- Chinese backed opposition groups sew political chaos on Taiwan

 

  • ALGERIAN SOVEREIGNTY– Social unrest was common in Algeria from the late 70s through the 80s. Libya or another outside nation-state player might have tried to turn the situation to its favor and chip away at Algeria’s status as a sovereign nation.

 

  • ARABIAN STRIKE– A Soviet move into the Arabian Peninsula to seize the Saudi oil fields.

 

  • ATLANTIC SUDDEN– The Soviets begin a war against NATO with a major, sudden effort to close the Atlantic.

 

  • MONGOLIAN THRUST– Either Mongolia moving against China or the Soviet Union, or perhaps a Sino-Soviet encounter within the borders of Mongolia.

 

  • POLISH DECOY– A Soviet gambit to take attention away from another region where it will be making moves in the near future.

 

March 2016 DIRT Project: The New Cold War

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Whether or not Russia presents a geopolitical threat to the United States and her European allies is no longer up for debate. The question has been answered by Russia through its military actions in Crimea, the Ukraine and Syria, its burgeoning diplomatic relationships with nations such as Iran, and its obsession with challenging the United States in every manner possible around the globe. Moscow has bent over backwards to show the world that it is a threat to the United States, Europe, and democracies around the world. On Saturday, 13 February, 2016 Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev stated that the world said that the world was fighting a new Cold War. He went on to warn of grave consequences for the West if it did not cooperate with Russia in Syria and in other places.  The thinly veiled threat is impossible to ignore, as is the intimidation factor.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Cold War 2.0. This is not your father’s or grandfather’s Cold War.

In the last half of March, I will publish a three-part series on the new Cold War, providing a detailed analysis of the diplomatic, economic, and military dimensions of the new state of political hostility between the United States and Russia. The series will also examine the conditions and events which have led to this point, as well as what the future might hold.

For those of us who grew up during the 80s and remember the unbridled optimism that washed over the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reemergence of a belligerent Russia may seem like a nightmare come to life. The bad old days could be returning. Whether or not the United States wants to accept it or not, Russia is a threat. More alarming is the fact that Russia considers us to be a threat once again. Moscow is making decisions and taking actions based on this presumption, and it is working to Vladimir Putin’s advantage. Meanwhile in Washington, the Obama Administration is reluctant to accept the new geopolitical realities that are emerging. With the failure of his foreign policy, President Obama appears to be satisfied with leave a resurgent Russia on the desk for his successor to contend with.